Patterns -A poem by Amy Lowell (from Men, Women and Ghosts, 1916)

English: Daffodils at Brodie Blocks of Daffodi...

English: Daffodils at Brodie Blocks of Daffodils in the walled garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
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.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday sen’night.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
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,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

 
The poem has struck me as a very modern poem,not a piece of nineteenth century war poetry it is usually classed under.It is not about the war but about the power of an individual to choose ,an act of free will to get away from “patterns”.There are patterns everywhere in our cultural attitudes, societal mores that restrict us within the confines of the patterns. Like the heavily brocaded dress of a lady that stifles the female body on a hot summer day. Like the patterned garden that grows according to the landscaping given to it.Not like the daffodils and squills freely waving in the breeze.There is a pattern everywhere and all life must proceed within its pre-designed structure.

Gentlemen must go to war and fight anonymous Dukes in Flanders and footmen must come with a letter from a messenger with a curt message about Lord Hartwell who died in action Thursday sen’ night. That is the pattern it follows. Any answer? The footman should ask and No, she should say but should be polite enough to ask to see that the messenger takes some refreshment.

The letter should be put in the lady’s bosom for a tearful reading in the shade of the lime tree.Just near the place in the bosom where a lime flower had dropped.That is how the pattern is.

Is there nobody to break the pattern? He who was willing to break the pattern is now dead. The heavily decorated Colonel would have embraced her softness duly protected by his big brass buttons but that is a pattern nevertheless.He therefore fell into another pattern called war.The man who would loose her in her heavily brocaded dress is lost to another pattern.

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Dreamers By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of fire lit homes, clean beds, and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

I love this simple “war poem” , a sonnet, by Sassoon born of his own experiences in a trench as a soldier fighting in the First World War.

The most striking images, to me, are:

Dividend: The soldier has invested his life in the capital of war, where there is neither capital appreciation for the investor nor dividends, but only for anonymous people who are supposed to get intangible benefits out of the enterprise of war.

Fatal climax: The soldiers are expected to fight with their lives to achieve a climax, which is supposed to be the outcome of the war which may or may not be favorable to the side he is dying for.

Dreamers: Love the sarcasm in the usage. The soldiers are not poets or dreamers of wistful other-worlds but merely dream of being ordinary people doing ordinary things like going to a movie, enjoying a bank holiday and even going to the office in the train.

There is no glory in the war inspiring them to sacrifice their lives for the country and even if it is, they will not live to enjoy it. If only they would let us go from these wretched holes into the arms of their wives and lead ordinary lives like all those others for whom they are supposed to be dying here.

“Futility”- A poem By Wilfrid Owen

 

Move him into the sun–
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,–
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved– still warm,– too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

I love the crisp last line- “What made fatuous sunbeams toil/To break earth’s sleep at all?” If the sun had taken so much effort to bring to life the seeds in his home and wake the earth and now the young soldier again and again, why does he not wake him now from his sleep? The questions are asked with the full knowledge of their futility. Because the sunbeams are “fatuous”,silly and dense enough to work without purpose. Nature makes its beautiful works and when they are destroyed, hardly cares to restore them to their life.

The futility of human existence is brought home beautifully in the way the sun has dealt with the soldier at different points of time. Its touch awoke him once, at home It always woke him , even in France. Until this morning and this snow. The limbs of the soldier are so dear-achieved. Why has nature now abandoned this exquisite piece of its work?