In rags mysterious as these
The shining Courtiers go—
Veiling the purple, and the plumes—
Veiling the ermine so.
Smiling, as they request an alms—
At some imposing door!
Smiling when we walk barefoot
Upon their golden floor!
- F 102 (1859) 117
A puzzle poem – and this one is really a puzzler! Contender #1: Dickinson is sketching a swallow, the sort that make their nests in the eaves. They are much like shining Courtiers with purple feathers and a white, ermine, breast. The babies open their mouths wide in a big smile, waiting for some nice bug to get plopped in, or at least a regurgitated bug. And why wouldn’t they smile when someone walks barefoot on the porch (golden-hued wood, I’m thinking) that is probably mined with bird doo. There are a few problems with the idea of swallows, particularly the first and last lines. The first isn’t so bad – feathers really are mysterious. But the “golden floor” is difficult… .
Contender #2: Angels. Angels walk among us, hiding their shining glory, their purple gowns (!) and wings in mysterious rags. They come to the houses of the well-to-do and ask for alms, and ask nicely. But then, there comes a time, hopefully, that we are now the ones seeking shelter and reprieve. Walking “barefoot” on heaven’s golden floor (or its "streets paved with gold") we depend on grace – and hope that the angels will smile at us.
Although at first I was pretty convinced the poem was about swallows, after working it out here I think it is more likely to be angels. Anyone else have a good idea? Hop right in!
|angels on their "golden floor"