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Patterns -- Amy Lowell

Guest poem submitted by Yvette R Sangiorgio
(Poem #644) Patterns
 I walk down the garden-paths,
 And all the daffodils
 Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
 I walk down the patterned garden-paths
 In my stiff, brocaded gown.
 With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
 I too am a rare
 Pattern.  As I wander down
 The garden-paths.
 My dress is richly figured,
 And the train
 Makes a pink and silver stain
 On the gravel, and the thrift
 Of the borders.
 Just a plate of current fashion,
 Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
 Not a softness anywhere about me,
 Only whalebone and brocade.
 And I sink on a seat in the shade
 Of a lime tree.  For my passion
 Wars against the stiff brocade.
 The daffodils and squills
 Flutter in the breeze
 As they please.
 And I weep;
 For the lime-tree is in blossom
 And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

 And the splashing of waterdrops
 In the marble fountain
 Comes down the garden-paths.
 The dripping never stops.
 Underneath my stiffened gown
 Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
 A basin in the midst of hedges grown
 So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
 But she guesses he is near,
 And the sliding of the water
 Seems the stroking of a dear
 Hand upon her.
 What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
 I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
 All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

 I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
 And he would stumble after,
 Bewildered by my laughter.
 I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
 I would choose
 To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
 A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover.
 Till he caught me in the shade,
 And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
 Aching, melting, unafraid.
 With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
 And the plopping of the waterdrops,
 All about us in the open afternoon--
 I am very like to swoon
 With the weight of this brocade,
 For the sun sifts through the shade.

 Underneath the fallen blossom
 In my bosom,
 Is a letter I have hid.
 It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
 "Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
 Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
 As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
 The letters squirmed like snakes.
 "Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
 "No," I told him.
 "See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
 No, no answer."
 And I walked into the garden,
 Up and down the patterned paths,
 In my stiff, correct brocade.
 The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
 Each one.
 I stood upright too,
 Held rigid to the pattern
 By the stiffness of my gown.
 Up and down I walked,
 Up and down.

 In a month he would have been my husband.
 In a month, here, underneath this lime,
 We would have broke the pattern;
 He for me, and I for him,
 He as Colonel, I as Lady,
 On this shady seat.
 He had a whim
 That sunlight carried blessing.
 And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
 Now he is dead.

 In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
 Up and down
 The patterned garden-paths
 In my stiff, brocaded gown.
 The squills and daffodils
 Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
 I shall go
 Up and down
 In my gown.
 Gorgeously arrayed,
 Boned and stayed.
 And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
 By each button, hook, and lace.
 For the man who should loose me is dead,
 Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
 In a pattern called a war.
 Christ!  What are patterns for?
-- Amy Lowell
I would like to submit one of my favorite poems first read in high school.
The title is accented in the fabric of the words, evoking a rich and varied
visual pattern. The cry of the poem evoked similar emotions, especially the
desire to break free of patterns.  Yet, as one matures, the special
significance of the poem is highlighted.  We cannot completely free
ourselves of the pattern of our lives, even though we rebel against it.
What do you think?


[Martin adds: Lovely poem. There's a compelling rhythm underlying the
apparently unmetred verses, reinforced by the brilliantly irregular rhyme
scheme (seldom have I seen that done better). Very appropriate in a poem
about Patterns, which was doubtless the effect Lowell was trying for.]


There's a Lowell biography at poem #102

44 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ira Cooper said...

As a person who grew up during the Viet Nam war period, I am always
appreciative of an anti-war poem. This one, "Patterns," is excellent,
focusing in on war's devestating effect on a girlfriend left behind (for
lack of a better way to put it). In fact, one of the most significant
things that formed my opinion back then was the poem,
"Dulce et Decorum . . ." It may have appeared on this e-group.

MGill01 said...

decided to look up poem on internaet by christ whaat are patterns for that
i remembered from high school one of my favorites and important to me as i
lost someone in vietnam so always think of that poem so thankyou so
much for posting one of your favorites as is mine i have been unable to
find it in books over the years and now after over 30 years i finally
have ilt thankyou thank you this has made my week my search is over

Judy Sharpton said...

After listening to George Bush talk about a war of which he knows
nothing, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning searching my mind for
fragments of this poem. I taught it to high school students many years
ago when the war in Vietnam was a new wound and my high school
boyfriend's grave was fresh. But I had lost it in my books and in my
memory. I could retrieve only a few lines and even had to strain after
the title. Thanks to your site, here it is for me in its entirety. It's
even more poignant than I remembered. It's no wonder my mind sought this
sensual response to the awfulness of war. It seems royalty still has the
power to send young women into wailing sorrow. And, the questions remain

Thank you.


Kate said...

After reading all these comments, I find it amazing that a poem based during a war of the 1700's is still so relavent to many people today. Whether it's the Vietnam War, or the War in Iraq, is seems that the same pattern is repeated. When one man kills another on the battle field, it starts a chain reaction of devastation that ends up killing (maybe not literally) many more people than one would initially think. Human beings are naturally obsessed with patterns; we can't comprehend a world without them. Perhaps this is why a bad pattern continues, even though it hurts so many.

Rebecca Dang said...

At first I did not understand the essence of this poem "Patterns."
However, after our teacher helped us explicate it line by line and in
some sections, word by word, I realized that I really enjoy reading
this poem. Quickly reading through it for the first time, I thought
that it was yet another piece of female American literature that
expressed contempt and/or annoyance with the discrimination they faced
during the time (I'm not arguing against them doing so because I
believe in gender equality even today, but some poems are dismissed in
my mind--all I remember is that a certain poem was satirical towards
womens' roles during the nineteenth century or what not). I failed to
see the significance of the title, "Patterns."
It amazes me that Amy Lowell was able to so adroitly write a piece
that discusses a seemingly broad range of topics (all captured in one
word: patterns) and evoke emotions from such a vast number of people.
Her poem, through repetition and diction, is indicative of her (and
other women during the mid-late 1700s) "war" against breaking the norms
for women in society as well as her point of view on the absurdity of,
literally, war. A poem that takes place centuries ago was popular, as
many other people commented, during the Vietnam war, as well as now
with the Iraq war (and will probably continue to stir up feelings
concerning sexism and/or war for future circumstances).


Kai Doo said...

I thought it was very interesting how the poem had such beautiful
imagery, yet it was sullen. Amy Lowell was able to effectively create
this contrast in her poem without making it sound awkward. She created
a wonderful setting and placed a sorrowful drama inside.

Jetliapprentice said...

i like this poem, very interesting style because of the fact that she titles
the poem: "Patterns" yet there are no consistent patterns throughout the
entirety of the poem. for example there are never any consistencies with line
syllables and rhyme scheme which i find ver interesting. I enjoyed reading this
because it was... surprising that you read the poem and it never had consistency
and it was all over the place but at the end, you find that it was all for a
reson and i found that very... likeable and awesome.


Tamara Haddad said...

did anybody take into account that this poem is perfect to disscuss feminist
theory? the "passion [that]
Wars against the stiff brocade" could certainly portray the speaker's desire
to break from the "pattern" of the learned female gender role.

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Anonymous said...

Amy Lowell was not a 1700's writer, she was not even born at that time. Her years were 1874-1925 and "Patterns" was published in 1916. She is a Modern writer.

Anonymous said...

She was a modern writer, but the "I" in the poem, with her powdered hair and stiff-brocaded gown, has always seemed to me to be someone in the late 1700's.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the speaker in the poem is living in the 1700's. I didn't want anyone to get confused and think that it was WRITTEN in the 1700's lol. For some reason some people believe it was and I just wanted to clarify

Anonymous said...

I love the poem, the imagery, the emotion. But...does anyone else have a problem with the time frame? She's wearing a gown of the 1760's - 70's - heavy brocade; the season is early spring if squills and daffodils are blooming; yet she speaks as though her fiance died at Waterloo - "with the Duke in Flanders....." That was in June 1815. The dress, shoes, flowers are all wrong for that.

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