On the outside, the speaker in Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” acts the way Victorian society expects of her. However, on the inside, she expresses her emotions and what she truly feels. The speaker is confined to each “button, hook, and lace” of society’s values.
When confronted with an emotional situation, she bottles her feelings and only confesses them to herself. The “patterns” serve as guidelines for the speaker’s life.
The speaker is constantly bombarded by what Victorian society expects of her.Order now
Her “stiff, brocaded gown” serves as a stand to hold her up. Without it, she would crumble with emotion. She mustn’t show any form of feeling, so she feels as if there is “not a softness anywhere” about her. Confined by “whalebone and brocade,” the speaker continues to live up to the expectations society enforces upon her. While she remains “guarded from embrace” by her gown, she contains emotions that she knows she can’t express. Doing so would brand her improper.
Once the speaker comes to terms with the bestowed values of society, she becomes overwhelmed with the news of her fiancÃ©es demise.
However, she does not express her depression or sadness. Instead she keeps her feelings hidden because she knows that behavior is expected of her. She even makes sure “that the messenger takes some refreshment” when the news is delivered to her. The only time the speaker confesses her feelings is when she is alone. She shows emotions such as passion when she fantasizes about her lover, who causes her to feel “aching, melting, unafraid.” She does this as she sits by herself “in the shade of a lime tree,” while her “passion wars against the stiff brocade.”
Throughout the poem, “patterns” govern the speaker’s life. The path that she walks down at the start of the poem is a pattern. After her fiancÃ©e perishes she says that she will continue to walk “up and down” the path, as if she will remain without love for the duration of her life. The gown is also a pattern. It confines the woman, blending her into the rest of society, as patterns do. The speaker says that with her “powdered hair and jeweled fan,” she too is a “rare pattern.” When the speaker is alone, she separates herself from the rest of society by showing her emotions. However, when she is in public she blends in with the rest.
As the speaker walks “down the garden-paths,” she notices how beautiful nature is. But, then she realizes that she cannot enjoy the world around her because she is confined to her stiff gown. Even though she would “like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground,” she knows she cannot indulge such fantasies. Fantasies are the only way for her to truly express herself, like when she feels such great passion and desire for her lover.
“Patterns” make up the structure of the speaker’s life. After finding out about her fiancÃ©e she feels she has been pushed by Victorian society to such an extreme as to ask herself the question, “What are patterns for?”