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,” l 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?


  1. Rather than offering a sincere prayer to a deity over the soul of her loved one, the speaker uses “Christ” as an expletive and expression of her frustration. This demonstrates a breakdown of conventional morality within this poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Lowell wrote this poem in 1915 in the midst of WWI, a major global war originating in Europe that lasted from 1914 to 1918. “Flanders,” or Flanders Fields, was a name that the English used to refer to battlefields in the Belgian provinces of West and East Flanders. This reference suggests that the speaker died in the trenches of Flanders Fields during WWI.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Again, the softness of the speaker’s naked body is juxtaposed with the hard exterior of the dress she is wearing. The dress is literally figured as a prison “guarding” her from her desire. From this metaphor, the audience sees that the speaker is not only confined by social expectations but also trapped by them.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The adjective “stayed” means halted movement, ceasing to move forward or progress. The adjective “boned” refers back to the whale-bone corset that the speaker wears underneath her oppressive gown. In this line, she relates her inability to move and progress to the corset, a symbol of the social expectations that dictate her life. The speaker recognizes that because of the expectations of the society in which she lives, the death of her lover is also the end of her own life.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Purple asters were laid on the graves of dead soldiers to symbolize the wish that things had turned out differently, that the soldiers were still alive. They were symbolic of not only death but the disbelief that accompanies death, the longing for a different outcome. The speaker imagines that the blue and yellow flowers of spring will be replaced by these asters. This metaphorically represents the speaker’s own transition from a young woman in the prime of her life to a woman with dashed hopes and nothing to anticipate but old age and death.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Red roses are symbolic of romantic love and intimacy; white roses represent mourning, loss, and sadness. Because the speaker does not specify the color of the roses that she imagines, the roses take on both meanings: they both represent her romantic love, and the loss of that love. In the context of the poem, these flowers take on an ironic significance that shows her ardent love, and the painful mourning that accompanies the loss of that love.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. This metaphor speaks to the “rare pattern” the speaker sees herself as being a part of. As a woman whose husband has died, the speaker is a widow—a woman condemned to mourning who will never love again. She has been put into a new pattern, one that prevents her from living her life and fulfilling her desire.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The speaker imagines herself walking through the garden in the future to show the lack of progression her life will have now that he is dead. The seasons in this line can be read as a representation of the periods in her lifespan. Summer represents adulthood; winter, old age. The absence of spring in this metaphor is a glaring image that suggests the woman’s youth is behind her. With the death of her lover, she has lost the prime of her life and been condemned to old age.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. A “whim” is a fanciful or fantastic creation, an invention or idea. In these lines, the speaker remembers that her loved used to believe that “sunlight carried blessing.” At the time he said this, the speaker agreed with him. However, now that he is dead and she still stands in the bright, sunlight garden the speaker sees irony in this belief: sunlight has not brought her blessings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The repetition of “up and down” underscores the futile nature of her movement, emphasizing the melancholic tone that has taken over the poem. She cannot exercise meaningful action; all she can do is pace these pre-laid paths. This stunted action symbolizes her powerlessness over her situation: she cannot change the fact that her lover has died any more than she can change the catastrophic effect this will have on her life and hopes.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. In these lines the dress is shown literally holding her up as she walks in the garden. While she experiences grief and feels the need to collapse, the dress, symbolic of her society and the expectations that society holds for her, keeps her rigid to the pattern she must follow.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. The speaker uses this simile to describe her experience of shock and pain. The letters could “squirm like snakes” because they become blurred through her tears. They could also “squirm” because her disbelief or shock warps her vision of the world. If we compare the words to “snakes,” creatures used to symbolize evil and danger, this works to imbue readers with the speaker’s feeling of panic and foreboding.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. Notice that this description of the sunlight lacks the warmth and joy of the springtime garden. The “white” sunlight has connotations of cold brightness, or a harsh light that is unkind to the eyes. As soon as the speaker learns of her lover’s death, her “springtime” is replaced by this cold, sterile light. This signifies the moment in which her life shifts and she loses the promise of her future.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. Now an archaic term that has fallen out of use, a “sennight” is a period of seven days and nights (a week). Lord Hartwell is presumably the speaker’s lover and this letter informs her that he has died on the battlefield.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. The speaker draws a direct connection between her “faint” feeling and her oppressive, heavy dress. The speaker is not faint of heart and weak; rather the social expectations placed upon her cause her to swoon.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. By “swoon” the speaker means she might faint. Swooning has typically been associated with women and was attributed to their having “weak nerves” and “delicate sensibilities.” Women in the 18th and 19th centuries often fainted because they were wearing whale-bone corsets that restricted their ability to breathe and decreased the oxygen supply to their brains. While this fainting quality furthered the social perception that women were weak, this weakness was actually the result of the societal expectations placed upon them by fashion.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. Notice that as the speaker shifts back to the present, her perception of the setting changes. Shadows replace the “light laughing maze” and and speaker’s power disappears. With this shift in setting come a darker tone that signifies her weakness and gloom on this afternoon.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. The “flashing sword-hilt” innuendo suggests that this stanza is the speaker’s sexual fantasy and expression of her obstructed desires. The buckles and heavy-boots that describe the rest of the man’s outfit cast him as a symbol for manliness and military prowess.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. The verb “bewilder” means to confuse, perplex, or mystify. It connotes a type of fascination or enchantment with something. In using this verb, the speaker paints this scene with her lover in a fantasy realm that is almost supernatural or mythological. Like the naked woman in the fountain, like a nymph, she imagines herself to be captivating and enticing.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  29. Notice that the speaker imagines herself assuming the space of the pink and silver dress as soon as she imagines destroying it: her skin becomes the pink and her powdered hair the silver. In this fantasy, the dress, the medium through which society sees and controls her, is replaced with her actual body. When she shares this space with him, she embodies the “pink and silver” and is able to be seen and to guide their actions.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  30. The adjective “crumpled” means crushed or wrinkled. Since the gown has been described as the stiff and unmoving thing that has given shape to her body throughout the poem, crumpling it is the perfect way to destroy it: without its shape it has no power over her life.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  31. On a literal level, the speaker might be expressing that the gown is uncomfortable in the summer because it is hot and she cannot take it off to cool herself in the water; the gown prevents her from fulfilling her basic human needs. This exclamation also holds metaphorical meaning. The speaker cannot experience or enjoy summer, a representation of adulthood, because she is restricted by social constraints.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. These lines could indicate that the speaker is looking at the figure of a naked woman bathing in this marble fountain and identifying with her. The naked woman in the fountain represents freedom from care and restraint. The speaker looks at the statue enviously because she can only be as free as this naked woman below the confines of her dress.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. Showers and indoor plumbing were not introduced until the 1850s. Before these inventions, people took baths in large copper, marble, or wooden basins filled with water heated on a stove. The speaker imagining her naked body beneath her dress as a woman bathing could signify detachment from her own physical form. This perception of her own body demonstrates the speaker’s sexual repression and the restriction of the female form.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. Although marble is a particularly hard substance, here it is aligned with the soft body against the stiff dress. This suggests that the dress is harder than the marble basin. Metaphorically this means that the social constraints on the speaker are more rigid than stone.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. The type of punctuation used in literature has a strong bearing on how we read words and phrases. In this case, the semicolon here indicates a close relationship between two independent clauses. This allows us to understand that the speaker considers there to be a very close association between herself and the blossoming lime tree—as the speaker weeps, the tree also weeps by dropping flowers. That the tree is in blossom also serves to suggest that the speaker views herself as also in full bloom, or in the prime of her life, ready for love.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  39. Many European fountains featured naked, mythological figures, the god Cupid, or female nymphs. In a garden such as the one described in these lines, these fountains often took the form of a large circular basin with a figure standing in the middle of it. The figure would hold a type of jug, plate, or other pouring implement in order to create a stream of water and the dripping water sound she describes.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  40. In addition to the phrase “as they please,” the verb “flutter” completes this image of the daffodils and squills living lives that are unfettered from rigid social patterns. This verb indicates motion that does not follow a prescribed path, which operates on a metaphorical level that contrasts with the sharply prescribed life of the speaker.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  42. The use of “wars” as a verb here not only indicates the strength of the speaker’s passion against “the stiff brocade,” but it also introduces the idea of war into the poem. War has historically allowed a privileged few to trade the lives of others for desired patterns of behavior around the world, such as territorial disputes, societal differences, and bigoted aggression.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  44. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  45. The verb “to stain” generally means to damage or alter the appearance of something by transferring the color of one thing onto another. It can also mean to deprive something of lustre or color. The train’s ability to “stain” the gravel suggests that it is so heavy and full of color that it could seep into the ground. This paints the dress’s excess as something dangerous that can alter the natural world and deprive it of its beauty.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  46. The verb “to sink” indicates downward motion, typically in a medium such as water, that can result from external force moving something down, such as weight or pressure. On a figurative level, grief and despair can cause a loss of bodily function, resulting in someone losing the ability to remain standing. Here, then, the speaker sinks instead of sits to suggest that the action is performed without her intent. She lacks the power to perform this conscious action because something else has robbed her of her willpower.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  47. In this context, a “train” is a long piece of material attached to the back of a formal dress that trails behind it on the ground. Trains were popular on the dresses of rich women throughout the 19th century and still appear on many formal gowns today. Notice that the description of this dress emphasizes its excessive ornamentation.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  48. Since whale bones were commonly used for the boning in corsets, the speaker can use just this phrase to refer to the corset she is wearing. Corsets have historically been used to force a body to conform to a desired shape and style. The speaker then not only wears a dress of intricately defined patterns, but she also wears a device that conforms her body to a desired pattern.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  49. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  50. In the 18th century, powdering one’s hair was a fashion statement used by the aristocracy as a sign of wealth and status. Men would wear powdered wigs, long curly hair covered in bright white powder. Women would not wear wigs but would powder their hair grey, or blue-grey. The speaker’s powdered hair suggests that she is of the upper-class and sets the story in the 18th century when such a fashion trend was popular.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  51. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  52. A “brocade” is a type of elaborately patterned fabric that generally has raised figures and designs stitched in gold and silver. The excessive pattern of the fabric of her dress underscores the rigid patterns within this speaker’s life.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  53. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  54. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  55. Daffodils are bright, yellow flowers with a long trumpet-shaped center. The presence of daffodils creates a bright, spring setting for the poem. These first lines suggest that the poem will celebrate the experience of spring’s beauty, and that this illusion will shortly be dispelled.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  56. The noun “thrift” has myriad meanings, but considering the context of the garden, here it most likely refers to a specific species of plant. For example the plantain thrift, lavender thrift, and the prickly thrift are all plants that could appear in a well kept garden. The acantholimon glumaceum in particular is a pretty garden rock plant that can be used to create borders and boundaries.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  57. If something has been “figured,” it has been adorned with ornamental designs and patterns. The adverb “richly” emphasizes how intricate these designs and patterns are. Like the patterned garden, the speaker herself is also a patterned figure, moving through the various structures and patterns in her garden, and, by extension, in her life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor