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 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 overheard 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
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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