Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Patterns” centers on the unmet needs of a love-starved woman. While the woman in the poem yearns for an ecstatic eroticism, her civilization has denied her a sexually responsive identity. Her unbearably constricted clothing articulates the theme of a world that has instituted a set of social controls that do not accommodate or recognize female sexuality. She is trapped in a system that has deprived her of her inmost identity as a passionate, sensual, and free-spirited young woman. Psychologically, her emotional state suggests suppressed hysteria, the result of a society that requires female passivity and affords few opportunities for spontaneous expression of feeling. A corollary of this theme is that of the female body. Although her social mask is that of a decorous product of her society, the socially constructed femininity represented by her gown and the formal garden acts as a prison for her body, which yearns to be free. This awareness of her own body is an inherently enlivening one, leading her to think of the fulfilling experience of sexual love.

Like her garden, which is perfectly pruned and arranged after the custom of the day, the lady is likewise beautifully organized. However, as she paces along the mazelike patterns of her garden, she feels imprisoned in a social system and in a false identity that denies her what she truly wants. A woman’s capacity for passion and its cruel restriction becomes a figure for yet another theme—the...

(The entire section is 468 words.)