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Introduction & Overview of Patterns

This Study Guide consists of approximately 11 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Patterns.
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Patterns Summary & Study Guide Description

Patterns Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Historical Overview on Patterns by Amy Lowell.

Amy Lowell's poem "Patterns" was first published in a monthly magazine called The Little Review in August 1915. The Little Review had a small circulation, but it attracted the attention of many notable writers of the time. By the time "Patterns" was published, Lowell herself had already become known as a poetic innovator with her second book, Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds (1914). She included "Patterns" in her third book, Men, Women, and Ghosts, an immediate bestseller published in October 1916. In spite of her popularity during her lifetime, most of Lowell's work was not republished after her death. However, a posthumous collection published in 1926—one year after her death—entitled What's O'Clock received the Pulitzer Prize. "Patterns" is one of her best-known poems, probably because it appeared in anthologies throughout the twentieth century. It is included in the most recent volume of Lowell's selected poems.

"Patterns" tells the deceptively simple story of a woman walking through a formal garden just after she has learned that her fiancé has been killed in combat. Lowell describes the woman's formal dress and the formal paths of the garden in vivid detail and in short, occasionally rhyming, lines. However, the formal patterns that encircle this woman's life take on new significance in the light of her lover's death. This poem exemplifies Lowell's adherence to the principles of imagism—expression through the use of vivid images—even though it does not conform to the original ideas of this early twentieth-century literary movement. In 1913 and 1914, Lowell traveled in England and met American expatriate poets Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle (known as H. D.). Pound and his fellow imagists wrote poetry composed of short, deliberately musical lines. They tried to describe visual images with firm, clear precise language rather than treating them as symbols for abstract ideas or feelings. These ideas influenced Lowell throughout her life and particularly in her second and third books of poetry. Lowell says in the Preface to Men, Women, and Ghosts that she is trying to use "the movement of poetry in somewhat the same way that the musician uses the movement of music." She also used poetry to comment on current events, particularly World War I, which was underway by the time she published "Patterns."

In "Patterns," Lowell presents a woman's perspective on war and on social conventions that keep her parading in her "stiff, brocaded gown" while her lover is on the battlefield. The woman in Lowell's poem has been robbed of her future marriage by the death of her lover, but she speaks most frankly about missing her lover's embraces. Lowell departed from poetic tradition by writing openly as a woman about the physical experience of being in love. By the end of the poem, the woman's frustrated passion has turned into equal frustration with this "pattern called a war." The idea of a pattern is to make something unified and structured, with expected and predictable outcomes. Both she and her fiancé are subject to patterns, though they do not know it until it is too late. Both of their patterns lead to death: his to a physical death, and hers to an emotional one.

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