Amy Lowell (poet)

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Amy Lowell on the cover of Time magazine, March 2, 1925. This issue included a favorable review of Amy Lowell's biography of John Keats.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925) was a modern American poet and an influential literary critic. She posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926. During her lifetime, her work was largely overshadowed and overlooked by her more famous relatives, James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell. Although she authored hundreds of poems, only a few have survived in poetry compendiums.

Her poetry is considered to be an example of the imagist movement formed explicitly by a small group of English-language poets in early-20th-century. The imagists favored precision of imagery, clear language, directness of presentation and free verse. A characteristic feature of the form is its attempt to isolate a single image to reveal its essence.

Patterns: A poem

Patterns, by Amy Lowell was printed in several anthologies[1].

  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 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 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?

Lilacs: A poem

Lilacs, by Amy Lowell was printed in several anthologies, including The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell[2].

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

Footnotes

  1. Patterns was printed in several anthologies, including this one: Some Imagist Poets, 1916, last accessed 11-4-2020
  2. The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1955