Down by the Sally Gardens was written by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who was highly reputed for his poetry and in 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has been said that W.B. Yeats’ poetry feels lyrical to the ear as the felicity of language suggests a singing voice and the beauty and simplicity of music. I can sense this in Down by the Sally Gardens as the story is so delicate and bewitched by a lost romance of the past. I find his choice of “snow-white hand” so graceful but frail too and perhaps this forebodes the fragility of their shared love.
I think the young man is lamenting the loss of a beautiful girl, whom he would meet at the Sally Gardens. I think that their romance wilted as he did not respect her plea to “take love easy”, thus suggesting that his advances were too fast and so frightened her away. He now looks back at his impatient ways of youth and regards them as foolish.
When I am preparing a song for a performance I like to create an imaginative world, which I can unpack around me, anchoring me to the story and aiding my ability to invite the listener to join me on a momentary journey. I think about the setting: where I am, the time of day, which season of the year, and what I can see. This leads me to wonder what the gardens looked like and what types of flowers I would be able to see there. The word salley or sally comes from the Gaelic word saileach which means willow. This suggests that this is a garden of willow trees. It would be common to find small willow plantations close to villages in Ireland, as the slender shoots of willow were used to bind thatched roofs. As well as providing willow shoots for thatching, these willow gardens doubled up as a meeting place for young lovers.
Fun Fact, George proposed to me under a willow tree in Paris. Its delicate leaves enveloped us and provided a romantic and charming spot. Unlike in the story, George got a yes. This personal memory has made quite the impression on me and I don’t think I will forget anytime soon the details of the willow. The shades of green, the strands of leaves, like delicate necklaces dangling and its fairy-tale shade.
Saule Pleureur de la Pointe, Île de la Cité, Paris, France
Down By The Sally Gardens
Words by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Down by the Salley gardens my love and I did meet; She passed the Salley gardens with little snow-white feet. She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree; But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree. In a field by the river my love and I did stand, And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand. She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.