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.