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Willow Pattern


To the right is a lordly mandarin’s country seat. It is two storeys high to show the rank and wealth of the possessor; in the foreground is a pavilion, in the background an orange-tree, and to the right of the pavilion a peach-tree in full bearing. The estate is enclosed by an elegant wooden fence. At one end of the bridge is the famous willow-tree, and at the other the gardener’s cottage, one storey high, and so humble that the grounds are wholly uncultivated, the only green thing being a small fir-tree at the back. At the top of the pattern (left-hand side) is an island, with a cottage; the grounds are highly cultivated, and much has been reclaimed from the water. The two birds are turtle-doves. The three figures on the bridge are the mandarin’s daughter with a distaff nearest the cottage, the lovers with a boat in the middle, and nearest the willow-tree the mandarin with a whip.

The tradition. The mandarin had an only daughter named Li-chi, who fell in love with Chang, a young man who lived in the island home represented at the top of the pattern, and who had been her father’s secretary. The father over-heard them one day making vows of love under the orange-tree, and sternly forbade the unequal match; but the lovers contrived to elope, lay concealed for a while in the gardener’s cottage, and thence made their escape in a boat to the island home of the young lover. The enraged mandarin pursued them with a whip, and would have beaten them to death had not the gods rewarded their fidelity by changing them both into turtle-doves. The picture is called the willow pattern not only because it is a tale of disastrous love, but because the elopement occurred “when the willow begins to shed its leaves.”

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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Wile away Time (not While)
Wilfrid (St.)
Wilhelm Meister
Will not when They may
William L
Willie-Wastle (the child’s game)
Willow Garland
Willow Pattern
Wilt or Welk
Wind Egg
Windmill Street