Monday, January 24, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Patterns by Amy Lowell

A few years back I was talking about the various things I have been interested and involved in over the years, and I was asked about their diversity. They included maths, science, quilt making, and poetry - and more recently, genealogy. I wasn't able to give an intelligent answer immediately, but then it came to me that what they have in common is patterns. I belive that it is a love of patterns that is one of my strongest reasons for an interest in all these varied areas.

Amy Lowell's poem "Patterns" intrigued me for that reason - it draws in at least two of my interests, textiles and poetry - but it also looks at the darker side of patterns. This poem is found in my old standby, the Collins Albatross Book of Verse, which was first published in 1933. My edition is dated 1960.

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 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?

Amy Lowell 1874-1925

for Tuesday Poem

5 comments:

Sandra Davies said...

Not commenting on the poem but your observation about pattern - as a one time quiltmaker, long-time family historian and artist with an oft-recognised penchant for vertical and horizontal lines this was an interesting and chiming thought - thank you!

Mary McCallum said...

Oh, I need to read this again and again. It is supremely good. Thank you Catherine.

Kathleen Jones said...

I love this - the patterns and repetitions and the way such a contrast is made between grief and the beautiful garden - the rich textiles and fabric of flowers and the emotional bleakness inside. it's wonderful.

Vespersparrow said...

I had no idea that Amy Lowell could have written such a stunning poem. Heartbreaking. A passionate woman restrained by whalebones and stays, by proper paths, by how one speaks to a footman--and how terribly, profoundly she knows it ought to be/to have different. All of nature burgeons and billows, wildly where the seeds fell--and to see it, know it, feel it forever after in her brocaded gown--sigh. A woman waiting, war taking her lover--another pattern. Woman walking out her grief, round and round the garden, through the seasons until that 'cri de coeur' "Christ! What are patterns for?" I'm so glad you posted this, Catherine. It's really quite wonderful.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Amy Lowell is one of my favourite poets, Catherine. I think she was the poet that I posted for my first Tuesday Poem. I have always loved the line 'the letters squirmed like snakes' in this poem. Such imagery! Thanks for posting.