“Down by the Salley Gardens” by William Butler Yeats


Image from Wikipedia

Although I have read a fair amount of Yeats, I had never read this poem before. It’s very short, so I am including it here in the post.

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 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 filled with tears.

As with any poem by Yeats, it requires some effort to extract the meaning. I started by looking up what a salley was and discovered that it is an Irish name for a willow tree. If my memory serves me correctly, the willow is associated with magic, visions, and dreams. The meaning of the poem immediately became clear to me.

The love of which Yeats speaks is his anima, the feminine archetype representing his subconscious mind. He is receiving visions and guidance from his anima regarding how to live at one with nature. This is key for anyone wanting to live a spiritual life or pursue mystical enlightenment. But he is “young and foolish” and allows his passions to dictate his actions. As a result, he loses his spiritual connection, which results in tears of remorse.

There is irony here. When we are young and carefree, and not jaded by cynicism, it is easier for us to make a spiritual connection and to receive visions. Unfortunately, that is also the time when our passions run high and we often reject that part of ourselves, wanting desperately to “grow up.” Sadly, once that connection is lost, one must struggle to regain it.


Filed under Literature, Spiritual

8 responses to ““Down by the Salley Gardens” by William Butler Yeats

  1. Nice poem and I really like your take on it. I love these feminine presences in his poetry: he had an amazing connection with his own anima.

  2. There seems to be nothing easier, alas, than lose the spiritual connection. Often, it is only a hair’s breadth away, on the other side of the veil. At times, I despair at having lost it and struggle to regain it. But can it really be done by struggle? How can one struggle to let go? But this seems necessary none the less.
    I hadn’t thought of the willow symbol before. Did you know this poem has been set to a lovely melody?

    • Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct – we need to let go in order to reestablish the connection. If you are swimming upstream, you are going in the wrong direction.

      I saw that there were some versions of this poem put to music but have not had a chance to listen to them yet. I’ll definitely do that soon. Thanks again!!

  3. Pingback: Gabriel Byrne Recites Poetry by William Butler Yeats… | MYSOULSONICE

  4. He’s one of my favorite poets. This poem is reminiscent of “When I Was One and Twenty.”

  5. Thank you very much for this article, I’ve been looking this Yeats’s poem because I saw a good british film in which Emma Thompson (she’s one of my favourite actress!) plays and sing this poetry-song. Very moving! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VktmRdxlKYs