The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

An eighteenth century Englishwoman walks through an elegantly patterned garden. The carefully arranged garden paths and flower beds cause her to reflect that her society has similarly arranged her, seeing to it that she will passively endure her stiff, brocaded gown, her powdered hair, and a jewelled fan after the fashion of the day. Although her pink and silver gown and high-heeled ribboned shoes are decorative, the woman feels imprisoned, sealed off from the softness and passion of her heart, her true self.

At first she feels that both she and the flowers are locked into rigid patterns, but she begins to realize that her situation is mocked by the wider liberty of nature. Inspired by the greater freedom of the flowers and trees, she passes a marble fountain and sees herself bathing nude in the basin, all the while imagining that her lover is hiding in the nearby hedge, observing her. Continuing the fantasy, she imagines the water sliding over her body as would her lover’s hand. The sensuality of summer makes her wish to shed her restrictive, conventionally feminine clothing for a newly liberated body whose nudity expresses a more desirable combination of pink and silver.

She imagines herself running fluidly through the maze of paths, laughing, pursued by her lover, who will eventually catch and embrace her, the buttons of his military uniform pressing sensuously against her flesh, allowing her to achieve the erotic release she has been...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Patterns” is a poem composed in the light of the Imagist movement in modern poetry, for which Amy Lowell had great sympathy. She eventually became one of its major proponents and leaders. Imagists sought to break with the traditional forms of poetry, preferring unrhymed and unmetered (“free”) verse and a more colloquial, economical diction closer to prose or to the rhythms of speech. In “Patterns,” her best-known poem, Lowell used an irregular rhyme scheme to suggest that expression must follow the movement of the natural speaking voice rather than customary poetic diction. The lack of formal constraints in “Patterns” creates a free-flowing style that passes effortlessly from verse to prose and back again, according to the mood or emotional needs of the narrative voice.

Although Lowell employs recognizable poetic devices, she is also using her poem as a way to tell a story—complete with a heroine and a supporting set of characters—as a piece of prose would. This story of a woman in crisis is facilitated through the technique of dramatic monologue, which allows the poet to explore the psychology of her narrator. In addition, dramatic monologue reinforces Lowell’s conviction that poetry is an oral art that should be heard to be completely understood. The woman’s unaffected but impassioned human cry of pain at the end suggests a speaking voice breaking out in anguished spontaneity.

The lack of a formal rhyme scheme in...

(The entire section is 527 words.)