I know how awful Wikipedia is, and I realise I am about to break academic writing protocol, but here is a big chunk of Willow pattern info all cut and pasted from Wiki. (Mainly for my own reference, not for discussion or critique! )
Legend behind the pattern
In order to promote sales of Minton’s Willow pattern, various stories were invented based on the elements of the design. The most famous story usually runs as described below. The story is English in origin, and has no links to China
The Romantic Fable: Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father (it was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class). He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of swallows (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).
The Secret Shaolin Message: The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are threeBuddha awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks’ souls on the journey from human to immortal life.
The teller narrates the tale while pointing to various designs on the plate.
Cultural impact of the story: The story of the willow pattern was turned into a comic opera in 1901 called The Willow Pattern. It was also told in a 1914 silent film called Story of the Willow Pattern. Robert van Gulik also used some of the idea in his Chinese detective novel The Willow Pattern. In 1992, Barry Purves made a short animated film relating the story, transplanted to Japan and entitledScreen Play.
The old poem:
Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.