"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, March 10, 2012

That Old Blue Willow Has Me in Its Spell

The Epicure

This painting appeared first in The Seven Ages of Childhood, 1909
by American author of verse and parodies
Carolyn Wells, 1862 - 1942
& American illustrator of magazines and children's books
Jessie Willcox Smith, 1863 - 1935
(later reprinted as a Vintage Green Tiger Press Postcard)

Blue Willow
My fate might not have been the dreamer's,
No time for prose and all for froth,
If the ware had not been old blue willow
From which I supped my daily broth!

A child, I lived the quaint tradition,
I was the Chinese maid, Kong Shee,
Flitting the bridge with Chang, the lover,
From the convent house by the willow tree.

I drained my mug at every serving
To rid it of its milky sea
And bring to light a gull still sailing
Above the swaying willow tree!

A whimsy thought but one for toying,
For who has power to estimate
The end of a young poetic fancy
When nurtured from a willow plate?

by Mildred D. Shacklett

Shacklett's poem can be found in the well - loved
anthology from my formative years:
The American Album of Poetry
compiled by American radio personality
Ted Malone, 1908 - 1989

Malone's book, filled with sentimental selections and companionable commentary, nurtured my poetic fancy as did the traditional Blue Willow bread and butter plates upon which my grandmother served us many a childhood breakfast of "dippy eggs and toast soldiers." When I got married, I also grew enamored of Wedgwood's pastel rendition of the pattern called "Chinese Legend," that Gerry and I discovered on one of our trips to England in the early 90s:

At the suggestion of my friend Ann de Forest, I recently read Rebecca Solnit's extended essay, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which carries a recurring theme of "The Blue of Distance." I guess it should not have come as a surprise to find Blue Willow amongst the ubiquitous images of blueness!

I was touched by the truth and beauty of Solnit's insight into our ageless attraction to "that blue - and - white stuff whose most familiar imagery is also a small tale of tragedy, the blue willow pattern of birds, trees, water, and separated lovers, like the items of a song you could drink from, teacups that would always be a cup of sorrow" (125).

Ah, a cup of sorrow.


Some Nice Books for Children & Collectors

"She was seeing what no one else in that room could see. Leaning willows and running water. Blackbirds balancing precariously on slender reeds. The river. . . . Her eyes were fixed on the ragged line of blue - green foliage that marked the river. There the willows grew, and in amongst them would be shade and running water and an endless number of delights that Janey couldn't have listed but which she could feel very plainly in her bones. It was the same feeling she always had when looking at the willow plate. Something fine was about to happen" (66 - 68).

"One morning Chang wrote, 'As the willow blossom falls onto the water, so my heart flies to you. Meet me on the banks of the river, as the tide turns under the moon.' When night came, the lovers finally met under the weeping willow, hidden from the Great Pagoda by an apple tree."


"It was some time later, while the last leaves were still on the willow, turning yellow from cool evenings, that there was a cloudburst in the late afternoon. The merchant was at his scrolls, writing with black ink and an empty heart, when he heard the villagers cry out on the opposite shore of the river, and he went to the window.

"His heart leapt at the sight, for just above the foot bridge that led to his daughter's pavilion, there appeared a most wondrous rainbow of every color, and while the villagers watched, and while the merchant watched, two swallows fluttered above the willow tree and kissed, their wings making the sound of wind in bamboo."

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, March 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Detail from The Epicure

1 comment:

  1. When I saw the title of the post on Facebook, I instantly wondered if you'd read Blue Willow too. Such poverty...such a good book. (I just KNEW you'd include it!)