, Research Paper
Symbolism in Patterns by Amy Lowell
Breaking the Patterned Mold
When one hears the words, I sink on a seat in the shade, they will most likely form a visual image in their head, such as a person sitting under a tree. Amy Lowell, an imagist, uses sharp images, precise wording, and figurative speech as a means of poetic expression to arouse the senses of the reader. In Patterns, Amy Lowell explores the hopeful liberty of women in the early 20th century through a central theme. A woman s dream of escaping the boundaries that society has placed on her dissipates when she learns of her lover s untimely death. Of the many images in this poem, the constant motions of the flowers and waterdrops, the dress the woman is wearing, and her daydreams of her lover are most crucial in developing this theme of freedom.
In the beginning of the poem, as well as throughout the work, the speaker describes daffodils and other types of flowers moving freely in the wind. Using imagery to appeal to the reader s sense of sight, these flowers are given motion, and they are described as, blowing, (3) and Flutter[ing] in the breeze, (23). This creates a sense of freedom and flexibility. The woman in the poem, presumably Amy, wishes to be like the moving flowers, carefree and jaunty. In the second stanza of the poem, the woman begins to describe the water in the marble fountain. The, plashing of waterdrops, (28) and, plopping of the waterdrops, (54) describe liquid in motion. The fact that she notices such little details in a fountain shows how intent the woman is on being free and able to move about as she pleases. The unconstrained movement of the flowers and the water manifest a way of life that the woman would like to live. What is keeping her from the liberation that she longs for?
The images in the poem name the binding dress as the culprit, but upon reading deeper into the signs of the imagery, one will find that there is a more complicated reason for her misery. The stiff, brocaded gown (5) is mentioned many times throughout the poem. Of course, back in that time, the woman was not only in a rigid, uncomfortable dress in the heat of summer, but she was also most likely wearing a corset. The Random House Webster s College Dictionary gives the definition of brocaded as, a fabric woven with an elaborate raised design, often using gold or silver thread. This stiff, imprisoning piece of clothing symbolizes the boundaries that society has placed on women during their time. They had to act properly, look nice, and uphold all standards especially if they were to be courted and married to a respectable man. The description of the train on the woman s dress also has specific imagery. The woman talks about how, the train/ Makes a pink and sliver stain/ On the gravel, ( ) The first image a person gets in their head is one of a train on a dress dragging across the gravel and leaving behind colors of pink and silver. This metaphor, however, has some underlying meaning, and symbolizes the training that she received to act properly as a lady. This training leaves behind a blemish, or stain, of high order (pink) and eloquence (silver) that she merely knows how to uphold, and does not want to be a part of her true self. She feels that learning the way the public wants her to act and look has somehow hindered her true being. Although it was torturous for the woman to stay within all of society s standards, she complied only because she knew that her lover held the key to the lock on her liberation. In marrying him, she felt as though she would be set free to make her own decisions. The woman thought that he would allow her to lead him down the many paths in their lives.
Next, the woman talks about how it will be when her lover returns to her. She would, run along the paths/ And he would stumble after, (43-44) and also, choose/ To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths, (47-48). These lines show how the presence of her lover allows her to lead him, thereby breaking free from the boundaries held on her. She is also running through a maze, not walking along the paths. This shows that she is no longer doing what others have done and have told her to do, but she is creating her own path and displaying free will. This imagery is used to show that in her future with this man, she will not have to live her life the way others have patterned it out for her. Through his love for her, she will be allowed to break the mold and be her own person. Unfortunately, her lover dies at war and she is back to where she began, wearing a stiff dress, following the paths already made, and waiting for another man to come along to rescue her from this prison cell.
I wonder what became of this woman in the poem. I hope that she finally found another love to rescue her from the confines of tradition. I am truly grateful that I live in a world today where women aren t as oppressed as they were back in the 1800s- early 1900s. It must have been discouraging to know that a woman s happiness and freedom in life depends on what a man will allow you to have, and it really took a strong woman to overcome the injustice shown to them. From Amy Lowell s poetry, I can tell that she had a passion to change women s lives. The way she describes the free movement of flowers blowing in the wind and contrasting it with an image of a stiff, brocaded gown really helps you to understand how she is feeling. Unfortunately, she had to continue with her patterned way of life for longer than she hoped. I, on the other hand, am free to chose my own path, or make up a new one. I probably would not be the person that I am today had it not been for the rise in women s rights. I am lucky to be a woman of the 90s and not the early 1900s!