I grew up near a golf course with graceful, majestic willow trees on the edge of the property. The golf course and the trees were just around the block and I loved looking at those beautiful trees. It was private property and it was also a golf course, so it was not an area I could walk freely. In fact, even living so close, I have never been golfing ever in my life, but I did enjoy the views of the green grass, the small man-made ponds, the tiny hills, and the large willows on the edge of the property.
I wish I had pictures of those willow trees. Recently I learned the golf course, to my surprise, was shut down permanently, and the land was being sold. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it would “always” be there. I don’t remember it not being busy, but I have been gone for many years. I think they will build houses on the property. The high school is nearby (it also moved in the area some years ago- they tore down the old building that I attended high school and built a new one.) So, I searched online for some images of trees and found the one above which is close enough to what I remember.
Somewhere, I must have read of “weeping” willows, because since then, the poetic imagery of “weeping willows” captured me, and became the subject of some of my daydreams. I wrote a specific poem when I was 15 in which the willow tree takes a prominent role.
I came across a website recently called “The Writers Almanac”, and today they are featuring a poem about a willow tree, but the reason for that is explained below the poem. Today is the day that the pharmaceutical company Bayer received a patent for its medicine “aspirin”.
From Writer’s Almanac, a brief history is below about aspirin and its connection to the willow tree:
“The German pharmaceutical company Friedrich Bayer received a patent for Aspirin on this date in 1899. This most ubiquitous of nonprescription drugs had its roots in the bark of the willow tree, and the development of the synthetic version was an international endeavor. Plants like willow and meadowsweet were used as a pain remedies by Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 3000 BCE. The Greek physician Hippocrates reported giving willow leaf tea to women in the throes of childbirth to help ease their labor pains. In 1783, an English clergyman named Edward Stone wrote a letter to the Royal Society. He explained that, over five years, he had had consistent success in relieving ague and fever in his parishioners by giving them dried white willow bark. In 1828, a German pharmacy professor isolated the active ingredient in willow bark and named the bitter yellow crystals “salicin,” after the Latin name for white willow — Salix alba. Extracting the salicin from plants was difficult, and required a large amount of plant matter to produce the necessary quantity, so scientists went to work on a synthetic version. A German chemist named Hermann Kolbe first synthesized salicylic acid in 1860.
In 1895, a Bayer chemist named Felix Hoffmann was given the task of developing a “new and improved” synthetic salicylic acid product. He had a personal stake in the work, because his father suffered from rheumatism but couldn’t take salicylic acid without vomiting because it irritated his stomach. Hoffmann studied the scientific literature, and felt that combining an acetyl group with salicylic acid would yield a gentler product. He came up with an effective synthetic version in 1897, and once it passed clinical trials, Bayer sought a patent for the brand name Aspirin: “A” for acetylsalicylic acid, the synthetic compound developed by Hoffmann; “-spir” for Spiraea ulmaria, or meadowsweet, which was a botanical source of salicylic acid; and “-in” because it was a common suffix for drugs at that time. By 1950, it was the best-selling pain reliever in the world.”
(Excerpted from: http://writersalmanac.org/episodes/20170306/)
Isn’t that fascinating? I had no idea that willow trees contained the origins of aspirin. I do like learning about herbs and where some of our medicines come from; I find it interesting, so it was fun to come across this little section and its connection to the willow tree.
I found a couple of willow tree poems to share, and the last one below is the one I referenced earlier (which I wrote as a teenager).
First is a poem by Anna Akhmatova called “Willow”.
by Anna Akhmatova
(translated by Jennifer Reeser)
…and a decrepit handful of trees.
And I matured in peace born of command,
in the nursery of the infant century,
and the voice of man was never dear to me,
but the breeze’s voice—that I could understand.
The burdock and the nettle I preferred,
but best of all the silver willow tree.
Its weeping limbs fanned my unrest with dreams;
it lived here all my life, obligingly.
I have outlived it now, and with surprise.
There stands the stump; with foreign voices other
willows converse, beneath our, beneath those skies,
and I am hushed, as if I’d lost a brother.
Next is a poem by William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair. (How about that middle name “Makepeace”? Makes me wonder about the origins of that one. Did his parents give him that as a middle name, or was it a family namesake?) This poem is slightly longer and a rather tragic tale. But, it is an example of willow tree taking a central role in the story. I just found it while today, while searching online for poetry about willow poems.
By William Makepeace Thackeray
Know ye the willow-tree
Whose gray leaves quiver,
To yon pale river;
Lady, at even-tide
Wander not near it,
They say its branches hide
A sad, lost spirit?
Once to the willow-tree
A maid came fearful,
Pale seemed her cheek to be,
Her blue eye tearful;
Soon as she saw the tree,
Her step moved fleeter,
No one was there—ah me!
No one to meet her!
Quick beat her heart to hear
The far bell’s chime
Toll from the chapel-tower
The trysting time:
But the red sun went down
In golden flame,
And though she looked round,
Yet no one came!
Presently came the night,
Sadly to greet her,—
Moon in her silver light,
Stars in their glitter;
Then sank the moon away
Under the billow,
Still wept the maid alone—
There by the willow!
Through the long darkness,
By the stream rolling,
Hour after hour went on
Tolling and tolling.
Long was the darkness,
Lonely and stilly;
Shrill came the night-wind,
Piercing and chilly.
Shrill blew the morning breeze,
Biting and cold,
Bleak peers the gray dawn
Over the wold.
Bleak over moor and stream
Looks the grey dawn,
Gray, with dishevelled hair,
Still stands the willow there—
THE MAID IS GONE!
Sing we a litany,—
Sing for poor maiden-hearts broken and weary;
Sing we a litany,
Wail we and weep we a wild Miserere!
Finally, here is the poem I wrote when I was 15. It is clearly a 15-year-old girl’s poem. It is sort of embarrassing to share it, but I guess I don’t really care about that anymore. My Sunday School teacher in high school gave me a tiny little purple journal with empty pages, and in it I copied down some of the poems I wrote in high school. I’m so glad I did that, because otherwise, these poems would be scattered among many notebooks and would be lost until I found them, and I think many are still lost in those pages that I have forgotten. That is why I was able to quickly locate this poem, since I kept this little journal. Here it is. You have my permission to laugh. :)
That Perfect Hour
One quiet, spring night
I turned off the light
And slipped into bed
With covers drawn up to my head
I drifted off to sleep
Until I fell very deep
In a sweet and lovely dream
(and – how real did it seem!)
I saw a giant weeping willow
Which the wind was trying to billow
Under it was a handsome young man
Holding a lovely purple flower in his hand
Closer and closer, I had to walk
Because with him, I wanted to talk
I stayed with him about an hour
Then he gave me the purple flower
He said goodbye, it’s not the time
That in the future, our love will be sublime
My tears began to drop
And my heart began to stop
A single teardrop fell on the flower
At the ending of this perfect hour
His face was etched in my heart
And I longed very much not to part
With blurry eyes I saw the willow turn dark jade
And the vision of him began to fade
But as the sun began to rise
I saw while opening up my eyes
Lying on my pillow
Was a branch of a giant weeping willow
And also a dewdrop on a purple flower
Was there to remind me of that perfect hour.