Thursday, June 27, 2013

Patterns: Lowell & Emerson

Dramatic Patterns at the Venetian, Las Vegas

My approach to writing and organizing these blog posts is precisely what I always wanted to do with literature. More than scholarly analysis or research ~ going back to my first highschool notebooks, scrapbooks, personal poetry collections, reading lists, and posters ~ I was always most interested in drawing all the loose threads together, weaving some kind of comprehensible pattern, and saying to everyone, "See! Doesn't that make life more meaningful? Doesn't everything make more sense now?" Certainly to me it does." As Amy Lowell says: "Christ, what are patterns for?"


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 whalebone 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 plashing 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 se'nnight."
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?

by American poet Amy Lowell (1874 - 1925)
Pulitzer Prize, 1926 (awarded posthumously)

from Men, Women and Ghosts
for more of Lowell's poetry, see also
A Dome of Many - Coloured Glass


Mystically Patterned Ceiling Lamp at the Palazzo, Las Vegas

In the essay "Experience," Ralph Waldo Emerson writes from a personal sense of apparent fragmentation, a sensation which leads most people to question the patterns life is offering them. "Experience" opens with a question -- and an answer: "Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight." (141). Stairs, or a hallway, or a balcony, or a promenade -- stretching ahead and behind.

Emerson questions the uncertainty of our limited perspective. However, his goal in "Experience" is not to search for or explain the extremes of this series but to suggest methods by which we may find ultimate value in the inconsistencies and frustrations of daily experience. He assures the reader that the certainty we seek is not to be found by imposing order on what seems incoherent, and he offers insight into the possibility that an order beyond our immediate comprehension already exists and is in operation despite the haphazard wreck we may feel our life, at times, reduced to.

If we would grasp the meaning and the pattern of our experiences and see them as other than fragmented and incoherent, we must be willing to wait: "The years teach much which the days never know" (153). We must, Emerson advises, draw conclusions not in the morning but in the evening. We must readjust our perception. Emerson's focus in "Experience" is not the poet of specialized vision but the view of the horizon available to all human beings who take the time to understand the ramifications of their experiences. One thing we can gain by grasping the pattern of our own experience is an understanding of the experience of others.

for more on Emerson, see additional posts:
Always Have the Blues a Little
Portal to the Divine
Fond of Books and Watchful
Burning Bush
Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny
Patterns: Lowell & Emerson
The Primrose Post
An Experience Old House
One Hundred Years From Now
Ben's Birthday: The World Is His
Excellent Images
Dream For Your Life
A Screen of Purest Sky
Through A Glass Brightly

And on The Fortnightly:
Through a Glass Brightly
Emmanuel, God With Us
Opal: In Love With The World
Melancholy and / or Properly Tormented
O Ya - Ya of Little Faith

And on Kitti's Book List:
Suggestions for Sam
A Couple of Domestic Goddesses

1 comment:

  1. Jack Galgon writes: "The Emerson put me in mind of Escher."