Poet's Corner: Sonoma County's Nell Griffith Wilson brings 'Weeping Willows' to life

Thanks to weeks of good rain and the sun’s welcome reappearance, the willows that abound around Sonoma County are beginning to bud and leaf out. Soon, their long, slender branches will begin to offer dappled shade.

In literature, the willow has long been a symbol of peaceful ease or quiet knowledge. Nell Griffith Wilson, one of Sonoma County’s most beloved poets of the early 20th century, brought the trees to life as peaceful old men in “Weeping Willows,” content in their retirement to happily shade the sheep and host the choirs of passing song birds. What’s most striking about this poem is that, in the end, Wilson uses it to eulogize her famous father, Nathaniel Griffith, who she had just lost and who was considered the grandfather of the Gravenstein apple.

“Weeping Willows”

Weeping willow trees

are peaceful trees,

Like old men with long beards

Dreaming in the sun,

Old men at rest

With all their labor done;

Men who held life close

And found it good,

who have not only dreamed

But practiced brotherhood;

Men who have met sorrow

And accepted loss,

Yet garnered from the years

More of its laughter

Than its tears;

Whose hearts have held no room

For bitterness;

Weavers who have never let

The thread of gold

Slip from the loom.

They sway,

These weeping willow trees,

In graceful acquiescence

To the breeze,

And through their curtained coolness

Birds come and go

upon their singing way;

And sheep have made

a rendezvous with drowsiness

Within their mottled shade;

There is no sadness

In weeping willow trees

Only a quiet gladness.

They stand so tranquil

In the sun

Like kindly old men

With all their labor done.

My father - he was one of these.

Weeping willow trees

Are peaceful trees.

From “Deeper Harvest: ?Gleanings from the Valley of the Moon” (Banner Press, 1936).

Iris Jamahl Dunkle is Sonoma County’s poet laureate. She writes a bi-weekly column about poetry.

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