The subject of the willow tree has inspired writers and poets for many long years, as has much of our pagan heritage. As part of my research into this tree, I managed to cull some poetry from various sources and assembled it into one place.
The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow.
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow.
~William Shakespeare, Othello
This old folk song, illustrated c1880 by Walter Cranehas the chorus:’Sing all the green willow, willow, willow, willow,Ah me, the green willow my garland shall be.’
The alders in the front line
Began the affray
Willow and rowan tree
Were tardy in array
From Robert Graves’s version of Cad Goddeu, the battle of the trees
“I am a willow of the wilderness,Loving the wind that bent me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
This old folk song, illustrated c1880 by Walter Crane
has the chorus:
‘Sing all the green willow, willow, willow, willow,
Ah me, the green willow my garland shall be.’
Of all the trees in England
From sea to sea again
The Willow loveliest stoops her bows
Beneath the driving rain
Walter de LaMare
When furry buds are all about
Upon the pussy willows
The fairy folk soon find it out
And use it for their pillows
Then busy are the brown men
Those downy buds they take
And turn them inside out, and then
Such cosy caps they make
Those fluffy little buds of fur
An Elf’s wife simply loves
And so he takes them home to her
To make her winter gloves
Rhyme by H.G.C. Marsh Lambert from ‘Bo Peep’s Big Nursery Story Book’
There once was a Willow, and he was very old,
And all his leaves fell off from him, and left him in the cold;
But ere the rude winter could buffet him with snow,
There grew upon his hoary head a crop of mistletoe.
To determine if you will be married in the new year:
“Throw your shoe high up
into the branches of a Willow tree;
If the branches catch and hold the shoe,
you soon will married be.”
But water and willow are also sacred to the poet, to Orpheus who was allowed to enter the land of the dead to fetch back his beloved Euridice and who received his poetic gift by touching a willow tree. ‘Burn not the willow, a tree sacred to the poets.’
Listen to Steeleye Span singing the old folk song ‘All Around my hat I will wear the Green Willow’.
All around my hat I will wear the green willow
All around my hat for a twelve-month and a day
And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it
It’s all for my true love who’s far far away
Fair Flora! Now attend thy sportful feast,
Of which some days I with design have past;
A part in April and a part in May
Thou claim’st, and both command my tuneful lay;
And as the confines of two months are thine
To sing of both the double task be mine.
Latin poet Ovid, Fasti, v, 185, for Flora (Floralia) Apr 28 – May 3
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Leaf on the Waterby Ouan Tsi (1007-1072)
The wind tears a leaf from the willow tree;it falls lightly upon the water,and the waves carry it away.Time has gradually effaced a memory from my heart,and I watch the willow leaf drifting away on the waves.Since I have forgotten her whom I loved,I dream the day through in sadness,lying at the water’s edge. But the willow leaf floated back under the tree,and it seemed to me that the memory could never be effaced from my heart.