The Word of Willow

OLDER than Eden’s planting, older than elves,
Willows remember a grand world of wet
Whose map was webbed with feathery, walking groves!
They dream of that rich mud, they whisper yet
Of hazy rindled valleys, the hush and drip,
Where willows strode about on yellow feet:
A race not human, although somewhat, with green harps,
Masters of poems and small magics, who could make
Water-spells and runes for roots and sap.
Then Adam woke and named things: the willow-folk
Became all tree because he called them so,
Became sleeping princesses in towers of bark,
And pollarded princes, their lore seeped out of mind.
Now their children shade sad lovers, burial-grounds
And haunted houses. Some of them are resigned,
Only weep into streams and wring gray gnarled hands
Over wild feet knotted and held tight
In man’s tamed earth, all power gone from their wands.
Others grow crabbed from straining against fate,
Are racked into Rackham-crones, hags and grutchers
Huddled in tattered shawls, awry with spite,
Wicked old wicker wizards propped on crutches,
And hobnobs of witches clutching besoms in bogs,
Hatching plots against man under their twiggy thatches.
But all sing willow, willow: In shallow quag,
By dyke and ditch, from osier-holt to holt
A question sighs along their yellow rags:
What is the master-rune of our leaf-alphabet,
The old Word of the Willow that could free us yet
To be trees as men walking?
They forget , forget. . . .