Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Willow Legend


Remember this ring? An interesting little shard of beach pottery which reminded me of the Scotland flag! Last week R found a beauty of a piece of pottery which puts this section into context.
Both pieces show sections of the famed Willow pattern which has undergone many adaptations over the years. The legend behind the pattern is of uncertain origin and goes like this . . .

In a bygone age a wealthy and powerful Mandarin of the Chinese Empire lived with his lovely daughter Knoon-se in a grand palace surrounded by ornate, exotic flowers and trees. Chang, a low born but intelligent and personable young man, was employed as secretary to the Mandarin and fell hopelessly in love with the exquisite and captivating Knoon-se. Reciprocating his affections, Knoon-se met with Chang each evening beneath a weeping willow tree by the river.

The Mandarin learned of their trysts and, infuriated that his adored daughter had fallen in love with a commoner, dismissed Chang, banning him from the estate, while Knoon-se was imprisoned in a pavilion overlooking the river. He surrounded the palace grounds with a crooked fence and, against her wishes, arranged for Knoon-se to marry the warrior Duke Ta-jin. With no company apart from servants, Knoon-se befriended and fed many birds and, knowing that herwedding would take place once the fruit tree outside her window was in bloom, she stared desolately into the river, contemplating her isolation and despairing of her future without Chang.

The devoted Chang, unaware of Knoon-se's approaching nuptials, also cared for and spoke with birds while dreaming of ways to contact his lost love. [Here, versions of the legend differ; as some say that] Chang sent a message to his beloved by fixing a sail to a shell and floating it down the river bearing a love poem, "As this boat sails to thee, so my thoughts tend", which Knoon-se scooped from the river with her parasol. Her spirits lifted as she read his words and knew that Chang would come for her. During the hours of darkness she replied unseen, adding a burning incense stick to the shell and warning Chang to "Gather thy blossom, 'ere it be stolen". Knoon-se watched the tiny light until it disappeared downstream and prayed for rescue. [Other versions claim that the lovesick couple communicated using their feathered friends as go-betweens.]

The tree was heavy with bud and near to blossom as the Duke Ta-jin arrived amid great fanfare, accompanied by a huge retinue of servants. He presented his betrothed Knoon-se with a casket of rare and priceless jewels, but she could think of none other than Chang and gazed at her unwanted future husband with a heart of stone, her eyes dull with despair.

Nights of celebration and sumptuous banquets followed. Chang entered the palace grounds disguised as a servant and glimpsed the Mandarin and Duke through a window, both sated and asleep. Seizing the moment, he crept to the riverside apartment where Knoon-se languished alone. The lovers embraced with tears of joy and, pausing only to grab the casket of jewels, fled across the bridge to a boat that Chang had moored nearby in readiness.

Alas, a slight noise alerted the Mandarin and he gave chase.

Knoon-se and Chang sailed to a faraway land where they sold the jewels to purchase a small pagoda and lived in bliss, sharing the life they had yearned for through many seasons. [The Willow Pattern shows their distant pagoda surrounded by lush foliage.]

In a fit of vengeful spite, the Mandarin captured and caged all the birds in his gardens, as birdsong was anathema to his ears. Relentlessly he and the Duke sent spies and warriors on long and unsuccessful quests to find the couple. Ultimately the brooding Mandarin, obsessed by his lost daughter and thwarted at every turn, chanced upon a possible solution. He released all the birds and ordered his men to follow them as they flew away. The devoted birds, who had never forgotten Knoon-se or Chang, unwittingly led the evil army straight to their far off dwelling.

At the dead of night, murderous men surrounded the pagoda, setting it alight as Knoon-se and Chang slept. Tragically, the lovers perished in the flames. Revenge and bitterness had seemingly prevailed as the fire raged and engulfed all.

Cosmic winds howled as the ever-watchful gods took pity on the doomed lovers and blessed their undying devotion by granting them immortality. From the charred ruins of their home, the souls of Knoon-se and Chang soared into the sky as turtledoves and kissed again; beyond fear, beyond danger, forever free and symbolising eternal love.

http://www.worldcollectorsnet.com/magazine/issue32/iss32p5.html



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