Emily Dickinson's "All these my banners be"

Updated on November 12, 2019
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Emily Dickinson Commemorative Stamp

Source

Introduction and Text of "All these my banners be"

Like a garden or landscape bespotted with numerous colorful wildflowers, the poetic garden that the speaker is creating holds all of her numerous, colorful poems. She celebrates those natural wildflowers as the 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

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 when 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."

Emily Dickinson's Titles

Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems; therefore, each poem's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Orange Daylily, aka "Flags"

Emily Dickinson

daguerrotype at age 17
daguerrotype at age 17 | Source

Life Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father's home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily's personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily's New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily's father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily's early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father's community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily's poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family's and compatriots' intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily's reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church":

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I'm going, all along.

Publication

Very few of Emily's poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death that her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily's room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publications of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily's brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily's poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had "corrected" for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily's mystically brilliant talent.

The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries
The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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