Patterns


As un undergraduate I learned that a writer learns by writing, and by reading those writers whose voices speak to us from the past. To that end, I read all the great masters, and I learned much.

Edna StVincent Millay taught me many subtle ways to express emotion in verse, without drowning in adjectives. From Amy Lowell, however, I learned to combine prose with verse, producing a unique combination of freer rhyme schemes and unfettered rhythms.

In addition, Amy Lowell’s voice is clear, and her story simple, but the magic of her poem weaves an inescapable, complex emotional response in her reader. There is, however, another message in addition to the one of lost love, of a life ended too soon, and the grief of those who endure. It is the brief and subtle condemnation of a social system, where war is routinely played outside her private and protected, manicured garden.

  Patterns

        by

Amy Lowell

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 whale-bone 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 sen’night.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” l 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?

 

 
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