Patterns - Symbolism


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