Down by the Salley Gardens

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"Down by the Salley Gardens" (Irish: Gort na Saileán) is a poem by William Butler Yeats published in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems in 1889.[1]


Yeats indicated in a note that it was "an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself."[2] The "old song" may have been the ballad The Rambling Boys of Pleasure[3] which contains the following verse:[4]

"It was down by Sally's Garden one evening late I took my way.
'Twas there I spied this pretty little girl, and those words to me sure she did say.
She advised me to take love easy, as the leaves grew on the tree.
But I was young and foolish, with my darling could not agree."

The similarity to the first verse of the Yeats version is unmistakable and would suggest that this was indeed the song Yeats remembered the old woman singing. The rest of the song, however, is quite different.

Yeats's original title, "An Old Song Re-Sung", reflected his debt to The Rambling Boys of Pleasure. It first appeared under its present title when it was reprinted in Poems in 1895.[5]


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.[6]


It has been suggested that the location of the "Salley Gardens" was on the banks of the river at Ballysadare near Sligo where the residents cultivated trees to provide roof thatching materials.[7][8] "Salley" or "sally" is a form of the Standard English word "sallow", i.e., a tree of the genus Salix. It is close in sound to the Irish word saileach, meaning willow.

Musical settings[edit]

The verse was subsequently set to music by Herbert Hughes to the traditional air The Moorlough Shore (also known as "The Maids of Mourne Shore") in 1909.[1] In the 1920s composer Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979) set the text to her own music.[9] The composer John Ireland set the words to an original melody in his cycle "Songs Sacred and Profane", written in 1934.[10] There is also a vocal setting by the poet and composer Ivor Gurney, which was published in 1938.[11] Benjamin Britten published a setting of the poem in 1943.[12]


The song has been part of the repertoire of many singers and groups. Notable recordings include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Down by the Salley Gardens – tale of unrequited love". Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  2. ^ Quoted in M.H Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt eds., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. p. 2024.
  3. ^ Wilgus, D.K. (April–June 1979). ""Rose Connoley": An Irish Ballad". The Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society) 92 (364): 172–195. JSTOR 539387. 
  4. ^;ttSALGARD3;ttSALGARD3.1.html
  5. ^ Ford, Robert, W.B.Yeats: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 69
  6. ^ The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, (London, Wordsworth Editions) 1994, page 16
  7. ^ McGarry, James P (1976). Place names in the writings of William Butler Yeats. London, UK: Macmillan. p. 79. 
  8. ^ Jeffares, A. Norman (1984). A new commentary on the poems of W.B. Yeats. Stanford,, CA USA: Stanford University Press. p. 14. 
  9. ^ Jezic, D. P. (1988). Women composers: The lost tradition found (2nd ed., pp. 157-162). New York: The Feminist Press.
  10. ^ Perry, Ted. "Songs Sacred and Profane, Song Cycle by John (Nicholson) Ireland". Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  11. ^ Perry, Ted. "A First Volume of Ten Songs, Collection by Ivor (Bertie) Gurney (1890 - 1937)". Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  12. ^ Perry, Ted. "Down by the Salley Gardens". Retrieved November 23, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Performed by Dancing Willow

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