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:

"Down by yon flowery garden my love and I we first did meet.
I took her in my arms and to her I gave kisses sweet
She bade me take life easy just as the leaves fall from the tree.
But I being young and foolish, with my darling did 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.[4]


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.[5]


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.[6][7] "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.[8] The composer John Ireland (1879–1962) set the words to an original melody in his song cycle Songs Sacred and Profane, written in 1929–31.[9][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] In 1988, the American composer John Corigliano wrote and published his setting with the G. Schirmer Inc. publishing company.[13]


The poem has been part of the repertoire of many singers and groups, mostly set on "The Maids of Mourne Shore"'s melody. 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. ^ Jeffares, Alexander (1968). A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Stanford University Press).
  4. ^ Ford, Robert, W.B.Yeats: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 69
  5. ^ The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, (London, Wordsworth Editions) 1994, page 16
  6. ^ McGarry, James P (1976). Place names in the writings of William Butler Yeats. London, UK: Macmillan. p. 79.
  7. ^ Jeffares, A. Norman (1984). A new commentary on the poems of W.B. Yeats. Stanford,, CA USA: Stanford University Press. p. 14.
  8. ^ Jezic, D. P. (1988). Women composers: The lost tradition found (2nd ed., pp. 157-162). New York: The Feminist Press.
  9. ^ "Songs Sacred and Profane, Song Cycle by John (Nicholson) Ireland". The LiederNet Archive.
  10. ^ Craggs, Stewart R. (28 January 2013). John Ireland: A Catalogue, Discography and Bibliography: A Source Book (2nd ed.). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 92–93. ASIN B00AW99HNA.
  11. ^ "A First Volume of Ten Songs, Collection by Ivor (Bertie) Gurney (1890 - 1937)". The LiederNet Archive. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Down by the Salley Gardens". The LiederNet Archive. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  13. ^ Corigliano, John. "Three Irish Folksong Settings (1988)". Retrieved 17 March 2016.

External links[edit]