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Emily Dickinson's "All these my banners be"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant authentic image of the poet.

Emily Dickinson - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant authentic image of the poet.

Introduction and Text of "All these my banners be"

Like a garden or landscape bespotted with numerous colorful wildflowers, the poetic garden that Emily Dickinson’s speaker is creating holds all of her numerous, colorful poems. She celebrates those natural wildflowers as she boasts the permanence of her own creation.

This speaker, like the Shakespearean speaker, has planted her flag in the ever existing land of creativity, where she can plant any flower she chooses and where she knows they will continue to shed their perfume to the olfactory and their beauty to the eyes, as well as their music to the ears.

All these my banners be

All these my banners be.
I sow my pageantry
In May –
It rises train by train –
Then sleeps in state again –
My chancel – all the plain
Today.

To lose – if one can find again –
To miss – if one shall meet –
The Burglar cannot rob – then –
The Broker cannot cheat.
So build the hillocks gaily
Thou little spade of mine
Leaving nooks for Daisy
And for Columbine –
You and I the secret
Of the Crocus know –
Let us chant it softly –
"There is no more snow!"

To him who keeps an Orchis' heart –
The swamps are pink with June.

Commentary

The speaker is celebrating her spiritual garden of verse, wherein like the beauty of literal wildflowers the beauty of her poems retains the delicious ability to remain ever existing.

First Stanza: Planting Flags of Sacred Beauty

All these my banners be.
I sow my pageantry
In May –
It rises train by train –
Then sleeps in state again –
My chancel – all the plain
Today.

On the literal level, the speaker is celebrating wild flowers, claiming them as her nation or state, and implying that she is planting them as one would plant a flag to possess a territory or mark the discovery of some formerly distant land. One may be put in mind of the moon-landing at which time the American astronauts planted the flag of the USA on the moon. Thus, she begins by asserting that all of these flowers are her "banners" or flags.

Interestingly, there is a type of Daylily that sports the nickname "Grand Old Flag," or as my mother referred to them as "Flags." These wildflowers grow abundantly along rivers, old country roads, and even along busy highways. They are quite hardy, so hardy, in fact that some folks actually disdain them and seek to halt their spreading abundance.

This speaker adores her expanse of wildflowers. After claiming them as her "banners," she claims that she is sowing these, her "pageantry," in the late spring month of May. She colorfully reports that they come shooting up through the earth like trains with a long string of cars that continue to move until they "sleep in state again" or halt from their journey.

The speaker then remarks that this bannered, colorful, and divine expanse of land—"all the land"—is her "chancel" today. Her love and devotion rise to the spiritual level as she calls that "land" metaphorically a "chancel."

Second Stanza: Creating a Mystical Garden

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To lose – if one can find again –
To miss – if one shall meet –
The Burglar cannot rob – then –
The Broker cannot cheat.
So build the hillocks gaily
Thou little spade of mine
Leaving nooks for Daisy
And for Columbine –
You and I the secret
Of the Crocus know –
Let us chant it softly –
"There is no more snow!"

As she eases into the metaphoric level, the speaker first waxes philosophical about losing and missing things—a state of consciousness that refers to the changing of the seasons; seasons with their abundant lush growth on the landscape are routinely followed by seasons in which no growth occurs, and the observer then finds s/he has lost something that she misses.

It remains the duty of this highly creative and talented speaker to eliminate all those pesky periods of losing, and she can do that metaphorically by creating her own sacred, spiritual garden filled with the flowers of her poems. In her mystically created garden, no "Burglar" can "rob," and no "Broker" can "cheat."

Thus, the various flowers named in the stanza stand both for themselves as well as serving as a metaphoric flower representing her poems. The speaker then commands her poetic ability, represented metonymically by the "little spade" which becomes a symbol for her writing, to "build the hillock gaily" or get on with creating these marvelous little dramas that keep her enthralled.

That "little spade" carves out "nooks for Daisy" and "for Columbine"—a colorful, fascinating way of asserting that her writing ability produces poems that stand as strong, colorful, and divinely beautiful as those flowers that she names, "Daisy" and "Columbine."

The speaker intimates to her "little spade" that they two are privy to the same secret known by "the Crocus," and she insists that they "chant it softly" in that delicious atmosphere in which "There is no more snow!"

The speaker would desire "no more snow" for the simple reason that the literal flowers do not spring up in winter; thus, she is robbed of their beauty, and she misses them. And thus the "no more snow" season for her writing has the power to encompass all the seasons, wherein those objects of beauty can continue to grow and flourish and provide beauty.

Third Stanza: Perpetual June

To him who keeps an Orchis' heart –
The swamps are pink with June.

The speaker then again waxes philosophical about her spiritual garden of flowers. It is an attitude that prevails to cause one to be able to accept the mystical level of being as more alluring and even more beautiful than the physical level that points to it.

As the physical level of being, which is created out of atoms and molecules, contains beauty but that beauty fades and is never permanent, the mystical level, which is created out of inextinguishable light, can remain permanently. That permanence for the earthy being remains instilled in the heart, mind, and soul. For the mystically inclined individual, the "swamps" remain eternally "pink" as though it were always "June."

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

Orange Daylily, aka "Flags"

The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries

The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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