Johnson’s Willow: Winner of Poetry Competition

Willow branch

Resurgam – I shall rise again
Johnson’s Willow

by Sarah Dale

Willow branch

Extracts adapted from ‘By the River, at Stowe Mill, Lichfield, where the Streams Flow Together’ and ‘Know Thyself’ by Samuel Johnson, translated from Latin by John Wain.


Book leaves endure, old words rising spring fresh

through yellowed paper, clear as glass the stream

still wanders, bending trees conceal the water

in a daytime darkness, but this speechless willow

has a different trick, perfectly reclothed each spring

as March slips into April, summer crowned, then

drifting spent tattered yellow leaves in autumn.


Each year’s wheel is counted under her ridged skin;

wide when life grew easy, contracted narrow

by scant rain, vicious winters.

Still, she bears her long tree span lightly

unmarked by grief and loss scarring human lives,

minds full of fear – of ghosts, of the fleeting glimmer

of the thin shadows of nothing, the absence of shapes.


This clever willow dreads neither decay nor death;

lightning may strike, storms lay low, but her art

of replication’s more perfect than any printing press.

No errata, no genetic miscoding – after each dissolution

she rises youth renewed from phoenix ashes

every fresh, immaculate leaf singing resurrection,

just as water, never tiring, still runs in the same channel.

© 2021 Sarah Dale