“A Pattern Called a War”

Memorial Day… Traditional to remember the sacrifice of soldiers on this day, the battlefield fallen. And we do. But today, let’s also remember those the fallen leave behind.

Image shows a woman in a high-waisted pink dress and a bonnet, sitting next to a man in a uniform that has a black jacket with white piping across the chest, maroon trousers, and leather boots. They're sitting on a bench in a garden, looking at each other, obviously courting.
“Au Jardin.” Gioacchino Pagliei via Wikimedia Commons.


by Amy Lowell

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,” 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?

Image is a painting showing a young woman in a pale dress with a pink sash. She is sitting on a bench under an apple tree, draped on the high arm with her head in her arms, looking sorrowful.
Sunday Afternoon – Ladies in a Garden. Detail of painting by unknown English School artist.

War is a tragedy. War destroys lives and causes unmeasurable suffering. It should never be entered in to lightly: lives are too precious to waste. We forget that all too often.

Every Memorial Day, I hope we remember.

(Originally posted in 2013)

“A Pattern Called a War”

One thought on ““A Pattern Called a War”

  1. rq

    Yankee Bayonet – The Decemberists:
    Heart-carved tree trunk, Yankee bayonet
    A sweetheart left behind
    Far from the hills of the sea-swelled Carolinas
    That’s where my true love lies

    Look for me when the sun-bright swallow
    Sings upon the birch bough high
    But you are in the ground with the voles and the weevils
    All a’chew on your bones so dry

    But when the sun breaks
    To no more bulletin battle-cry
    Then will you make a grave
    For I will be home then

    I will be home then
    I will be home then
    I will be home then

    When I was a girl how the hills of Oconee
    Made a seam to hem me in
    There at the fair when our eyes caught, careless
    Got my heart right pierced by a pin

    But oh, did you see all the dead of Manassas
    All the bellies and the bones and the bile
    Though I lingered here with the blankets barren
    And my own belly big with a child

    But when the sun breaks
    To no more bulletin battle-cry
    Then will you make a grave
    For I will be home then

    I will be home then
    I will be home then
    I will be home then

    Stems and bones and stone walls too
    Could keep me from you
    Scaly skin is all too few
    To keep me from you

    But oh, my love, though our bodies may be parted
    Though our skin may not touch skin
    Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow
    I will come on the breath of the wind

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