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Emily Dickinson's "Garland for Queens, may be"

Emily Dickinson's poems remain a vital part of my poet worldview. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson Commemorative Stamp

Emily Dickinson Commemorative Stamp

Introduction and Text of "Garland for Queens, may be"

The speaker in Emily Dickinson's "Garland for Queens, may be" holds a ceremony to announce that holy orders have been bestowed on this certain "Rose" that she has encountered and is visiting. The speaker begins by hinting at the traditional description of the nature of garlanding and bestowing laurels on royalty and on others who have excelled in certain areas of achievement. The treatment of this "Rose" contrasts greatly with the treatment of the "Little Rose" in Emily Dickinson’s "Nobody knows this little Rose."

The speaker holds the rose in such high regard that she feels it deserves more credit than a simple observance of its beauty and wonderful fragrance would afford. Instead of offering a poem of ordinary appreciation, she is offering her highly formalized ceremony to honor that rose. While some may argue that such exaggeration commits the pathetic fallacy, it should be noted that the elegance with which the poet has crafted her ceremony is simply offering a way of looking at a natural object, and that way is filled with love and appreciation.

Garland for Queens, may be

Garland for Queens, may be–
Laurels–for rare degree
Of soul or sword.
Ah–but remembering me–
Ah–but remembering thee–
Nature in chivalry–
Nature in charity–
Nature in equity–
This Rose ordained!

Commentary

Honoring with a solemn and formalized tribute, the speaker makes the "Rose" the honored guest on whom she is bestowing holy orders. Her love for the beauty of the rose allows her to set the flower alongside queens and other high achievers without trepidation.

First Movement: Traditional Yet Unique

Garland for Queens, may be–
Laurels — for rare degree
Of soul or sword.

The speaker begins her tribute by offering a unique defining description of the nature of the garland and laurels for queens. Although her definition hints at the traditional employment of those items, she does stipulate that that employment "may be"—indicating that such laurels and garlands may also be at times other than residing within the framework of her unique definition.

The speaker does acknowledge that the presenting of "laurels" remains "rare." But they remain within the purview of "soul or sword." One becomes garlanded with laurels for some uncommon, special achievement within the realm of creativity of accomplishment in any number of areas such a literature, science, or even sport as marked by "soul" or likely even more often in the realm of patriotic defense of one’s nation through service in the nation’s military or for vanquishing enemies foreign or domestic, that is, by "sword."

Second Movement: Back to Everyday

Ah–but remembering me–
Ah–but remembering thee–

The speaker’s opening remark of her tribute has taken her listeners to supernal realms often considered far from the ordinary, everyday life of the average citizen. She thus brings the discourse back to herself and to her listeners. She insists that while keeping in mind the profound and royal plane of the employment of garlands and laurels, we must include ourselves in the vast journey of accomplishment or what’s tradition for?

The speaker quite literally commands through the present particle that minds take their attention from the high and mighty to the representatives of the vast ordinary—"me" and "thee." Her employment of the informal second person demonstrates the intimate nature that she gently guides her listeners to accept with her otherwise highly formalized tribute. Without such intimacy, she knows their acceptance of her ultimate bestowal on a flower of such a claim as she intends to make would be impossible.

Third Movement: Deserving Qualities

Nature in chivalry–
Nature in charity–
Nature in equity–

The speaker then directs her audience, whom she envisions as gathered for such as a coronation or ceremony, to visualize the bestowing of a garland of laurels upon an important personage. She thus announces the qualities that the target of her tribute possesses.

The nature of that important target can be detected in three qualities that guarantee the superior achievement of that recipient: chivalry, charity, and equity. That recipient excels in "chivalry," as she places herself in the arms of those who celebrate important events such as birthdays, christenings, and even funerals. The nature of the recipient also includes that quality of excellence in offering "charity." Flowers bloom and spread their beauty as well as their fragrance freely, gayly, in a rather chivalrous manner. This particular flower remains equal ("equity") to all occasions in which it is often featured. Its nature allows it to ascend to all sensibilities through its various physical parts as well as its strong impression on the minds and hearts of those who are fortunate enough to have been offered the rose in bouquets.

Fourth Movement: Bestowal of Holy Orders

This Rose ordained!

Finally, the speaker reveals the target of her praise, the recipient of this garland of praise. She reports that the "Rose" has been ordained, singled out for its special achievement in the areas she has just specified. By employing the term "ordain," the speaker implies that not only is the rose to be garlanded with the ordinary laurels for praise, but that this Rose is receiving holy orders. This Rose may now go forth during its summer of splendor and preach its beauty and its fragrance to all who are fortunate enough to behold it.

The beauty of this particular rose has motived this speaker to praise it to high heaven. After pronouncing the importance of garlanded queens through sometimes even mundane circumstances and achievement, and after assigning near divine qualities to this rose, the speaker had nowhere else to go for praise but to assign those holy orders on it. And to this speaker the truth that the rose speaks to her allows her to view its beautiful blossom and to breathe in the marvelous fragrance of the rose with even more joy and abandon.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes