Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508
In this poem, a lady walks among the flowers of her garden, and she says,
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
She feels confined, as though everything about her must be contained and exact, like the manicured flowers of the garden. Her clothing seems to represent the confining influence of society, and she feels encased by the stiffness of her dress and primped and laden by her powder and jewels. She is almost like a beautiful flower, too, especially because of the pattern of her dress, and she is supposed to stay in her proper place, just as the garden is kept neat and tidy. She says that she is
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
Again, she describes herself as being sort of caged—whale-bone likely refers to the stays in a corset, meant to mold her body into a particular shape (like a pattern)—by her garments and footwear. Despite the softness of her body underneath, she is encased by hard things meant to keep her looking a certain way, like the flowers. Further, she says that her
Wars against the stiff brocade.
In fact, the flowers are actually more free than she is, because they can "Flutter . . . As they please" in the breezes that blow. The speaker wants to break the pattern, but she cannot do it. She can only weep. Moreover, she exclaims,
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.
In other words, then, she is not free to enjoy the beautiful season because of her confining garments and all they represent—and she wishes that she could simply be naked and see her dress crumpled in a heap on the ground. The lady wishes she could run free, naked, without rules, and embrace her lover so tightly that her body is bruised by his buttons. She longs to be "Aching, melting, unafraid," and surrounded by nature, in her own natural state.
Even when she learns that her fiancé has been killed in action, fighting in a war, she notes,
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,
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Even in her grief, she is compelled to maintain the pattern, to do what is proper and expected and "correct." She must stand "upright" like the flowers and keep to the pattern, despite her incredible loss of the man who was to "loose" her from this pattern. It seems, then, as though her real value lies in how well she maintains the pattern—and the social values, conventions, and traditions that it represents.