The weeping willow is perhaps one of the loveliest trees of all. It certainly plays an important part of many myths and legends in different cultures, and it has stories linking it with full moons, protection and inspiration. I have always loved willows. One of my fondest memories is of living in Cambridge and walking through the Boston Public Gardens when the willows were out in full. On a hot day, you could sit under one and feel ten degrees cooler. The were also among the earliest trees to leaf in spring.
In the old, old cemetaries of Boston and Cambridge, willows adorned gravestones and iron work going back to Colonial times.
In the beautiful North Carolina community in which I live there was once a beautiful lotus pond with a magnificent willow overlooking it. One night the tree came crashing down. Later the pond dried up and the lotuses were no more. This poem began quite some time ago, but it, too, lay dormant until I pulled out a forgotten draft of the first three stanzas. Strange how that can be–sometimes returning to a poem that was left unfinished so long ago is suddenly the very thing you need.
Click on the link below if you’d like to listen to me reading this poem. It will take a few seconds before the clip begins so please be patient.
They said it was the drought that did it.
Too many summers the pond dried up,
Even the lotus pods soon went dormant.
Rainstorms came that June: day after
Day the rain flooded the nearby creek
And filled the small pond you graced.
It was just too much and all too fast.
In the night you fell, your shallow roots
Rudely ripped out of the raw wet earth.
The old gardener pulls up in his truck,
Walks over with chain saw in hand,
Ready to dismember branches and trunk.
I ask if I might take a few willow wands.
He waits patiently and watches as I
Cut three long sticks of fallen green.
I thank him and walk away. He nods,
and smiles wryly after me, at the whimsy
Of a stranger who was passing by.
The chain saw shrieks as it starts
On its ruthless task as I continue
By on my walk, recalling a story I love.
Carrying sticks of willow for protection,
Orpheus, singer of sweet songs and poems,
Wandered in dark and silent Hades.
We know the ending, how Eurydice
Was soon lost forever. But the willow gifted
Orpheus with music, songs so beautiful
Even the wild and rowdy winds stopped
Blowing to listen to his broken heart. With
Orpheus’ death, the lyre lay silenced.
Over the chain saw’s tuneless humming,
I picture the willow’s nocturnal passing,
And I weep for all who are lost too soon.