My edition breaks up “All these banners be”, “To lose – if One can find again“, and “To him who keeps an Orchis’ heart” into three separate poems. Thus I will consider them first as individuals, but will keep in mind that they are often considered as one unified work.
Emily uses the language of the laborer and the domestic sphere to describe how, in spring (“May”), her “banners”, which could be the flowers in a garden or meadow, are cultivated (“sow”) be her, but also sewn (to sew). She is describing the work that goes into sowing her “pageantry” – the beautiful spring time procession of flowers blooming – which then “sleep in state again” when winter comes.
Yet the image also calls to mind that of an article of clothing she could sew (“sow”), such as a brightly colored dress or gown (with which to display her “pageantry”) with perhaps a “train” behind it, but then becomes the clothing she will be buried in on the winter of her life’s closing – “sleeps in state again”.
The use of “chancel” is interesting because it suggests a very domestic image of the simple fence around a garden as well as the barrier between the congregation and the people who preform the ceremony in a church. Perhaps Emily has cultivated “sow” (as in sown) her own beliefs, “banners” in the spring, “May”, and she watches her little congregation rise “train by train” which perhaps is referring to the use of train as meaning a sequence of people “following, accompanying, or attending on a person, usually one of high rank or importance; a body of attendants, retainers, or followers; a retinue, suite.” (OED, “train” N, 8a).
Yet when winter comes, her “chancel”, which if we again think of this has the little fence around her garden, no longer is adorned with flowers and creeping vines, but now is “plain” – no longer is there a procession (“pageantry”) of the “train”, it is “plain” because all the flowers sleep “in state” (in the earth).
As with many of her poems, the imagery is complex, and here especially since one can feel Emily not only looking at her little garden, but also identifying with the flowers as if her gown (her spirit, her truth, her soul) was made up of the fringes of a flower, and she must spend her mortal life in one of God’s little gardens separated from him by a chancel that she will only get one chance to climb in “May” before returning to the earth.