Themes in Patterns

Themes Examples in Patterns :

Patterns 19

"What are patterns for?..."   (Patterns)

The speaker ends on this rhetorical question to suggest that patterns have no real function. This question demonstrates exasperation with the patterns that govern her world. The very patterns she is being forced to conform to are the patterns that killed her lover and took her life from her. The patterns did not protect her; they did not fulfill their purpose. In ending the poem on this defiant note, the poem suggests that this speaker is rejecting the patterns that control her.

"In a pattern called a war...."   (Patterns)

In lamenting the patterns that control her own life, the speaker recognizes the larger patriarchal patterns that govern everyone around her. She expresses anger over the male-dominated pattern of war and aggression that led to her lover’s death and left her in her unvisited garden. The poem thus becomes a lament of her frustrated aspirations and a protest against women’s lack of influence over the misguided patterns of her culture.

"Flanders..."   (Patterns)

With references to corsets, dukes, and ladies, and powdered wigs the reader may assume that the poet backdated the poem to the 18th century. Indeed, the English invaded Belgium during the Flanders Campaign in 1792. However, because of the overt connection to battles in WWI, these archaic words and practices might instead be read as the poet invoking traditional images to strengthen her point. The oppressive forces that act on this speaker have been ingrained in her society since men were dying on battlefields in the 1700s and will continue to be around as they die on the same battlefields today.

"he would have been my husband..."   (Patterns)

Notice that the source of her disquiet and sadness is not revealed until the end. Instead, the poem begins with the speaker fantasizing about sex, complaining about her dress, and looking at the flowers in her garden. This suggests that the speaker’s sadness comes from what this death means for her life. She not only must mourn for the loss of her lover but also for herself as his death means her fantasies and freedom will never come to pass.

"blue and yellow flowers..."   (Patterns)

Notice how the blue and yellow flowers that seemed to signify the joy of spring at the beginning of the poem now seem out of place or mocking. The speaker’s experience of loss and inner sadness clashes with the environment she is in—a larger metaphor for her everyday experience in her society.

"correct..."   (Patterns)

In this context, the adjective “correct” takes on eerie connotations. Generally, “correct” means to be free from error. However, it also carries an implicit power structure, as those who decide what is error and what is correct are generally in socially powerful positions. Her brocade has been portrayed as uncomfortable and problematic throughout the poem. Thus, this statement, “correct brocade,” can be read ironically: it is “correct” by the standards of the society in which she lives, but it clashes with her desires and is wrong for her.

"“See that the messenger takes some refreshment...."   (Patterns)

This moment of refined, polite-society manners sharply contrasts with the speaker’s internal experience presented in the lines above. The speaker represses her panic, sadness, and fear in order to be a good hostess. This moment underscores the theme of the poem that social expectations restrain this woman’s ability to experience and express her emotions.

"maze..."   (Patterns)

In this fantasy, the speaker gives herself the power to make her own patterns in the paths. She has the agency to shape where they want to go. While she is still confined by the “patterned paths,” she has the agency to choose and shape her experience of these paths. These qualities sharply contrast the presentation of the speaker at the beginning of the poem and suggest that without her lover, the speaker does not have this power.

"I would choose..."   (Patterns)

Notice that in this fantasy, the speaker has the power to “choose” while in reality she cannot even remove her own clothing. This either represents the power that she longs to have by exercising her desires, or it signifies that the only power she can have in a patriarchal society is when she is entertaining or satisfying a man.

"dear..."   (Patterns)

Since this line ends with the word “dear” and the speaker imagines a man watching his love through the bushes, readers may think of the Diana Actaeon myth. In this myth, a hunter comes across Diana bathing naked in a pool. To punish him for watching her, Diana turns him into a stag and he is torn apart by his hunting dogs. The myth symbolizes the danger feminine sexuality poses to men. While the speaker does not directly allude to this myth, the imagery in this stanza suggests that her body and sexuality are perceived as threatening by her society and therefore confined.

"my bosom..."   (Patterns)

The speaker has indicated a lack of softness in the garden; yet the flower drops on her bosom, or breast. While her body is held within the confines of the stiff brocade, the flower’s dropping on this part of her body indicates that there is a softness within. This serves as a subtle indication to readers that the speaker is aware of the tension between her own desires and the expectations that society has forced upon her.

"softness of a woman..."   (Patterns)

The speaker indicates a difference between her soft body and the the stiff gown that contains it. The stiff gown can be read as a metaphor for the rigid social structures in which she lives. She emphasizes the disconnect between the speaker’s internal self and the external world that dictates her life.

"softness..."   (Patterns)

Also, soft qualities have historically and stereotypically been assigned to women as opposed to the hard, tough qualities that have been applied to men. This could suggest that the rigid, hard structures that prevent “softness” from appearing are associated with, or created by, men.

"Makes a pink and silver stain..."   (Patterns)

After describing the richly made, artificial aspects of her dress, the speaker creates this image of the train staining the path behind her. The train can be interpreted as a symbol of the socially constructed patterns that created this dress. In saying that this fabric “stains” the ground, a verb with negative connotations, the speaker suggests that the dress and the patterns that created the dress are also negative.

"Wars against..."   (Patterns)

This is the first time that we see the speaker’s internal passion explicitly restrained by her exterior dress. The brocade and corset are so restrictive that they not only hold her body in a certain way, but they also contain her feelings. That the speaker uses “wars” as a verb here indicates how strongly her passion fights against the conformity imposed on her spirit.

"I too am a rare Pattern...."   (Patterns)

The word “too” refers back to the fashionable items of clothing that the speaker has just described. In this line, she suggests that these fashion choices are patterns of dress taken up by the women in her society. In comparing herself to these patterns, the speaker conveys that her identity is also composed of a social pattern. Although she is part of a “rare pattern” and therefore unlike many others around her, her actions are still governed by a pattern. What this “rare pattern” is has yet to be revealed to the reader.

"softness..."   (Patterns)

If nothing around the speaker is soft, then that means everything is hard, rigid, and, by extension, structured. This suggests that the noun “softness” indicates a lack of structure, of freedom. Since our speaker sees no softness around her, we can see how this likely represents her desire to be individual, sensual, and free from the structures that have been imposed on her and that hold her in place.

"the patterned garden paths..."   (Patterns)

While the initial images of the garden emphasize the beauty and vibrancy of spring, this line introduces a new element. The speaker repeats the first line of the poem but adds the adjective “patterned” to describe the garden paths. This adjective implies that humans intervened in this natural place to create order. This line introduces the theme of human-made patterns shaping the natural world. What was first presented as robust, unrestrained springtime now appears more socially ordered or controlled.

"a plate of current fashion..."   (Patterns)

The lack of a subject in this sentence suggests that the speaker herself performs this role. In that case, “a plate of current fashion” provides an intriguing metaphor for how the speaker views herself. The noun “plate” in this context could apply to a meal, and since we have a time indicator (“current”) we can understand that plates are types of trends that pass and shift over time. The speaker sees herself as following the patterns prescribed by her society by making herself serve the dictates of fashion. That she trips in the shoes suggests that this is not natural behavior for her, that such impositions from society act against her individual self.