Two birds flying high
a little ship sailing by
a Chinese castle here it stands
facing many, many lands
a little bridge with three men on
a willow tree, that ends my song

BLUE WILLOW DISHES & POEM TELL STORY

BlueWillowPlatter

The story is of two faithful lovers.
On the right hand side is seen a large and magnificent Chinese dwelling,
by the side of which rare trees are growing.
It is the home of a mandarin.
His secretary, Chang, had fallen in love with the mandarin's daughter, Koong-see.
She loved in return, and they met clandestinely...

The mandarin, on discovering the affair,
forbade the youth to come near the house on pain of death,
and confined his daughter within the dwelling,
also building a high wooden fence from the wall to the water's edge...

Chang slipped into the house, and the lovers eloped;
for "the willow blossom already droops upon the bough".
They gained the foot of the bridge by the willow tree...

The mandarin saw and pursued them.
There are three figures on the bridge,
Koong-see carrying a distaff (emblem of virginity);
Chang carrying the jewel box;
and the irate mandarin with a whip...

Chang and Koong-see took refuge
in the humble house of two of Koong-see's former servants.
This is represented at the foot of the bridge.
Here Chang and Koong-see were solemnly betrothed...

The mandarin issued a proclamation
offering rewards for the return of his daughter and Chang.
Soldiers came to the gardener's house.
Chang jumped from the window into the river and returned with a boat.
Koong-see jumped into it, and the lovers were soon borne away
on the rushing tide of the Yangtse...

Chang bought an island and the lovers settled upon it,
building their house themselves.
The island is shown on the plate with its small trees...

Several years elapsed.
Chang had prospered by tilling his island...

Then again the soldiers sallied forth to attack the island
to seize Koong-see, and to kill Chang.
The peaceful inhabitants were not prepared.
Chang was run through the body and mortally wounded;
his terrified servants fled;
and Koong-see, in despair, set fire to the house,
perishing in the flames...

The pitying gods now transformed Koong-see and Chang into two immortal doves,
emblems of the constancy that united them in death.
From the top of the willow plate, therefore,
Koong-see and Chang survey the scenes of their romantic lives.

DinnerPlate

Two birds flying high
a little ship sailing by
a Chinese castle here it stands
facing many, many lands
a little bridge with three men on
a willow tree, that ends my song

To Orwell Today,

Hello,

I have been speaking to my mum and she mentioned the Willow Pattern and how her late mam recited this poem when she was a child. My mum is in her late 70's now.

Her mum was adopted in Hindley, Lancashire. I was wondering if this is a connection to this area and if there is a story to this? Could my grandma's real mother have recited this to her before she was adopted?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you,
Gwenda Ann Byers

Greetings Gwenda,

Yes, it's probable that your great-grandmother recited the Blue Willow poem to your grandmother who recited it to your mother -- just as my grandmother recited it to me when I was a child. With both of them hailing from England -- yours from Lancashire and mine from Essex (born in 1892) -- it doesn't seem to matter which county.

MapEnglandCounties

But one thing we know for sure is that the "willow pattern" dishes did originate in England -- they were first engraved in 1780 in a pottery in Shropshire. I learned this, and the meaning of the pattern, in an article I came across recently that was written in 1915. Below, and in the header above, I've excerpted passages from THE WILLOW PATTERN: HISTORY AND LORE:

DishesHistory DishesHistory2

Thomas Turner, who went from Worcester in 1772 to Caughley in Shropshire, brought his factory into prominence. His body and glaze soon rivaled Worcester, where he had learned his trade. Turner made a specialty of Chinese designs in blue under-glaze; and in 1780 he introduced the famous "willow pattern" which was engraved for him by Thomas Minton. Thomas Minton (born 1765), later to be a famous potter, was at first an engraver. He was apprenticed to Turner at Caughley, and afterward to Josiah Spode. The Caughley willow pattern was introduced by Spode into Staffordshire in 1784, and it was taken up by Adams, Wedgewood, Davenport, and Clews, and at Leeds, Swansea, etc, with differences, particularly in the fretted border and fence in the background.

Shown in the article is "a plate of willow ware in the familiar household pattern" which is the same pattern on my platter:

BlueWillowPlatter

Some of my dishes are of the original pattern and some are variations as can be seen displayed in the hutch beneath an oil painting by my grandmother:

HutchWillowDishes

The plates stacked on the lower shelf are my every-day dishes and the gold-rimmed set on the top shelf are only used on special occasions.

WillowGold

I notice now, since learning the official story of the Blue Willow pattern, that this gold-rimmed set is missing the little island where Koong-see and Chang escaped to and built their house and lived on until their deaths and metamorphosis into "two birds flying high".

All the best,
Jackie Jura, December 2019

The Willow Pattern: History and Lore (Prepared as an article entitled "The Willow Pattern" by the editorial staff of the Mentor Association. Illustration for The Mentor, Vol 3 No 10, Serial No 86. Copyright, 1915, by the Mentor Association, Inc. See also "Blue Willow Makers?")

To Orwell Today,

Hello Jackie,

Thank you so much! I did look at your website to find the verse.

Take care,
Gwenda Ann


Carrie Anne is wondering about the value of a Willow pattern Jug and Chamber Pot

Jan has a set of Blue Willow dishes made in Japan & wonders about their dollar value

BLUE WILL DISH-HUTCH POEMS (Jackie answers a reader about Willow wallpaper and the origin of some Willow poems)

BLUE WILLOW POEM DOWN UNDER (reader Richard from Australia sends his mother's version)

Marlene is looking for Blue Willow wallpaper after reading the Blue Willow poems

4 BLUE WILLOW DISHES POEMS (reader Barbara's grandmother recited the Blue Willow poem to her mother who recited it to her)

Gene has a set of Blue Willow dishes stamped "Japan" on the bottom & asks for more information

BLUE WILLOW PLATE POEM (reader Reed sends his grandfather's version of the Blue Willow dishes poem)

Chrissy asks for help finding out about the set of Blue Willow dishes she was given by her grandmother

Serenyi sends another version of the Blue Willow poem

Colleen wonders about the age of her "Blue Willow" set of dishes

TENNESSEE VERSION BLUE WILLOW (reader Barbara sends version she learned from her grandmother)

BLUE WILLOW DISHES POEM (Jackie learned the poem from her grandmother because she had Blue Willow dishes and every time we visited her she'd point to the different scenes on the plate and ask us to say the rhyme she'd taught us)

Jackie Jura
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