Emily Dickinson, “Did We abolish Frost” (1014)

Did We abolish Frost (1014)
Emily Dickinson

Did We abolish Frost
The Summer would not cease —
If Seasons perish or prevail
Is optional with Us —


“Did We abolish Frost / The Summer would not cease” – well, duh. Get rid of the essence of winter, that ice-cold hardened covering of life, and what you have is perpetual summer, no?

Not necessarily. We don’t know Frost is the essence of winter. Maybe there will be snow, ice, cold tormenting all around us, if not actually afflicting us personally. And what season would replace winter (if winter were frost) anyway? It doesn’t have to be summer. Finally, the being of anything calls into mind opposition. Can summer be if there is no winter? Both seasons could be as vital to each other as hot is to cold.

It is curious that the more one wants to realize (about) a thing, the more one focuses on the predicates that describe it. Those predicates – not even nouns – become the true beings. We use them to categorize nothing less than reality itself (i.e. there is a true “hotness” of which other hot things partake). For a more detailed discussion, you’ll have to spend time with Plato’s Phaedo and Trilogy (Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman).

The Seasons seem to be climates of being. They do encompass us. I have a few friends that think we can “abolish Frost.” There are no mean, cynical things that need to be said about anyone. All natures can be found acceptable, none need be shunned (it won’t surprise you to know this group is single for the most part). I don’t think we choose Seasons. They emerge from something deeper, wider, within and without us. The “option” is that we have to enjoy or struggle through them. Our choices are limited. Properly, the Seasons perish or prevail.


  1. @AC: I’m still puzzling over the poem. I’m playing with the idea that humanity is in a perpetual summer – another implication of the first two lines.

    I definitely take “We” to be “Us.” It may be the case one could say “We” are gods, “Us” mere mortals. I’d rather focus on “We” and “Us” being continuous, and both relating to humanity.

  2. Yes, I too feel certain that “we” and “us” refer to the same people or person(for this could, of course, be a “royal” we–it’s tone is regal enough, after all)–and that, surely, whatever is the condition of the poem’s “we” it is not one that belongs to us (the poet and humanity) except perhaps in strange, hypothetical, imaginary, or anticipated ways.

    I do feel that “we” here is a “we” of exclusion and difference from us rather than a we meant to include us: we as opposed to you. And what strange beings pose such (to us unimaginable) options to themselves this way: “Did we abolish frost …”

    Yet I also feel that perhaps you are right, that Dickinson does mean the “we/us” to be humanity–but, if so, then it is a humanity we can barely recognize as our own, a humanity addressing us from the realm of some impassable difference.

  3. Alright. I want this discussion to be a bit less in the clouds, so let’s simplify.

    The problem of whether summer and winter actually are points to us as humans (I know, it’s weird). It points specifically to our emotions and our will, which seem rather distinct.

    “Did We abolish Frost:” here you’ve got a hypothetical that combines emotion & will. But it is hypothetical. Of course we couldn’t abolish Frost! But Dickinson seems to be saying in a strange way we can.

    Hence, the question becomes whether we have greater power within us. In a way, you could say human being is like string theory: all these parts of strands of cosmic forces “unite” and we are actually more than we could ever conceive. But this isn’t some awesome positive New Age teaching. There’s lots we don’t know about ourselves and lots we don’t know about others. We’re in a “perpetual summer” if we ever thought we could abolish Frost. The funny thing is we do think that. We think the Seasons optional; we don’t realize just how much we’re governed by at least one.

  4. If we are to abolish the metaphorical frost, through our attitudes, then perhaps perpetual summer can exist. A half-full vs. half-empty view? Would that make life boring – all metaphorically summery? Looking at it from hindsight, frost is fodder for some really profound and beautiful poetry.

  5. Its almost Emersonian in quality. The choice is ours, weather reflects our internal clock(emotions). What strikes me as strange is the response to the question: its not an answer directly – did we – is searching for a yes or no answer. The response received is a qualifier to a different question -maybe – What would happen if we abolished frost?
    Also: what if frost/winter is a representation of depression, or sorrow, if it is lifted – does it mean that we’ll automatically get the opposite state happiness(summer)?
    As always she raises more questions than answers, but its frustrating and fun at the same time to ponder.

  6. Interesting While we can’ abolish frost she may be referring to a strangely long summer, there have been times where that has happened. I actually like winter and all its beauty along with the rebirth in summer its refreshing.

  7. I love that a short Dickinson poem can have so many interpretations! It’s incredible :) I personally think that we cannot abolish the frost of winter without abolishing the heat of summer- just like you cannot have cold without the necessary opposite of heat.

  8. Assuming she is referring to human emotions, this almost seems out of its time and belongs much more to today- with anti depressants, stimulants, focus and mood altering drugs so prevalent and so many people refusing to spend a waking moment outside of some form of stimulation (television, internet, etc.)

    But I think that is exactly what she’s talking about, the choice not to think about things (or live in a state that is not) bright and sunny. I guess they used other means to make it so in her time. It’s always interesting to see how universal our experiences are. Not much really changes.

  9. Ashok, you say: “we do think that. We think the seasons optional.” I don’t understand just what you mean: you think that you can abolish winter? or, you think most people think they can abolish winter? or, some third thins?

    I think most people pretty much take it for granted that they can’t.

  10. The choice is ours, weather reflects our internal clock(emotions). What strikes me as strange is the response to the question: its not an answer directly – did we – is searching for a yes or no answer.

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