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 jewelled 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 plashing 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?

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

15 Comments

  1. Belle Miller says:

    I found this poem almost accidentally and am moved most by things it precisely does not say. Many poems have a fixed line-length and some rhyme pattern but this poem acts like it never heard of such constraints. Here is poetry that reflects a natural immediate feelings that doesn’t experience the rigid whalebone of versification. Can’t you just see that the woman’s soul stands in a similar relationship to the conventional expectation. She has already gone beyond patterns even while sounding as if they limited her.

  2. villegas says:

    the patterns is such like dignified lady that there’s no embarrassments on her side tough she losses someone important in her life.Lowell has a great lesbianism in her part coz she even cried but to stand in her brocaded gown…

  3. ovah says:

    I could hardly understand it. It’s quite interesting. I’ve read several poems before but this one touches me the more

  4. ea says:

    Yes, I agree that this is a great poem. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem about “After great sadness, a formal feeling comes” or something along those lines. I don’t see any correlation to this and Lowell’s lesbianism as asserted in a comment below – as a fiction writer, I am well aware how someone can speak in many voices, and this could be her imagining herself as the speaker, or even imagining what her own lover might feel should she die – I don’t see any gender constraints to it at all. It is a poem of great passion and illustrates so well how that formal feeling comes when a relationship ends. Also, it seems to me to be an anti-war poem. How the pattern of human society, which includes war, occurs again and again and how devestating it is to the individuals involved.

    I love this for its inventive rhyme pattern. It seems to be challenging formal rhyme styles in a new free verse rhyming way – it’s brilliant!

  5. camille says:

    I think that the correctness in her corset relates to the fact that after her lover died she had to once again be the perfect portrayal of womanhood, when her lover was alive, it did not matter whether a ribbon was loose or what not. But I do agree with the idea that the main idea focuses on conformity based on gender etc. I think that it is more about the “patterns” of one’s position, and when her lover died she said “a pattern called war” which emphasizes the tragedy of conforming or doing what you are ‘supposed’ to do….all in all it is a very interesting poem

  6. Kaitlin says:

    I found it really difficult to analyse poetry until i read this particular work. This poem made me think about the woman’s frame of mind and how her emotions develop as she tells us her story. I came up with a piece of work that i am particularly proud of and will hand in to my Lit teacher with a triumphant grin. This is the first piece of poetry that has had a big impression on me (on a personal level), and i am now beggining the search for more of Amy Lowell’s work.

  7. Tim says:

    I disagree with Bill completely. The poem isn’t about the poet losing someone and having everything come crashing down. Lowell was a lesbian and this poem has to do with societal constriction of the female in 20th century America. She is attempting to liberate women from these “patterns” using many poetic devices including imagery. If you reread the poem, you will notice that her stiff, brocade gown is now ‘correct’ after her lover has passed away. She now has the ability to be true to herself. I’m not saying that your interpretation isn’t fine and all, but there is something else going on here.

  8. Bill McCune says:

    I came across Patterns in the Random House anthology.
    Of course the piece has many points for analysis, but here’s what grabbed me: I’ve been working on a military history TV project for a fwe years and have been to Iraq, Bosnia and such sad places. I think patters captures that empty, sinking feeling that comes with word of a soldier/loved one’s death – realizing that the dreams and anticipation of a wonderful future are instantly gone.

  9. Nadine says:

    The idea of confinement caused by societal patterns is evident. More so when you realize the author of this poem was lesbian.

  10. Tara says:

    I just read this poem a few ago in order to begin a paper on it for my college poetry class. I found the most interesting part of this poem on the first read through was the intense imagery. Everyone can picture this poor woman and her broken heart. However, there truly is a much deeper meaning to this piece. The last two lines, “In a pattern called a war./ Christ! What are patterns for?” reveals that the speaker, much like the author views society’s “patterns” in a negative way. What I don’t understand is why Lowell chooses to write this long poem about a woman and her fiance to prove this point. It is an amazing work though.

  11. Janelle says:

    I am in High School now and my friend and I are analizing this poem in class and I just wanted to get a little more information. The pattern is that she was once alone, but finds someone, and now is alone again. Thanks for the other ideas.

  12. Melissa says:

    A lovely poem which I, too, read for the 1st time in high school and have only just re-visited. The patterns of everything: gardens, clothing, behavior(society) which keep us going and also confine us…what are patterns for? They can be a prop, they can also keep one walking around and around in the same garden for the rest of one’s life. Because the voice of this poem actually asks this question at the end, I see some hope that this very patterned woman in a very patterned society may yet step out of her brocade and whalebone…a very positive image that I did not pick up when I was younger.

  13. Bruce says:

    I first read this 40 years ago in high school. I’m a guy. I liked it so much I kept re-reading it. Then I showed it to my English teacher, a woman. She read it, thought about it, then said, “It makes you want to rip your clothes right off and run about naked.”

    I couldn’t believe a teacher said this to a student.

    It’s kind of true, though.

    I just re-read the poem on this Website. For the first time I noticed the interesting rhymes.

  14. Emma says:

    This is my favourite poem. I cried the first time I read it. It really shows how the war affected women and how they became stuck in the same ‘patterns’ for ever if their husbands, fiance├ęs etc didn’t come home. She says that the only person who could save her from this is dead now, and she will be stuck like this forever.

  15. zehra says:

    Life is like some kind of walking.But it really makes difference where you walk.Walking in a garden which is similar to man-made societies makes a woman feel stuck.It does not make you feel better,moreover it demands from you to make it better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem better? If they are accepted, they will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.