Down by the Salley Gardens

Water Willow. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 1871.


Down by the Salley Gardens

William Butler Yeats, 1889


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 life easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree.


In a field by a 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.


A Little Poetry—Yeats presented “Down by the Salley Gardens” (originally titled “An Old Song Resung”) as “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman.”

The word ‘salley’ suggests a garden of weeping willow trees. A ‘weir’ is a dam built across a river to control water levels.

A Little Music—In 1909, Hubert Hughs set Yeat’s poem to the wistful air “The Maids of the Mourne Shore.” You can listen to Roisin Reilly sing it on YouTube. <>

4 thoughts on “Down by the Salley Gardens”

  1. I love Yeats! I love his Celtic and sort of pre-Raphealite feel! Rossetti’s painting matches it perfectly.

    Another thought… I have a book of Christina Rossetti’s poems which has a portrait of her on the cover. Her face is very much like those which her brother paints—the eyes, the cheeks, and especially the mouth. That’s just what I believe…

    1. Have you read my favorite Yeats poem—”A Prayer for my Daughter”? It would be impossible to choose a favorite poem, but that one would be high on my list.

      Although Yeats was not a pre-Raphaelite himself, and eventually rejected that movement for a less romanticized naturalism, he and his family had many interactions with the pre-Raphaelites. The connection you see is definitely there.

      Christina Rossetti posed for many of her brother’s early works; the portrait you mention was likely his.

  2. I just looked up “A Prayer for my Daughter” and it is BEAUTIFUL! I loved it! Thanks for sharing! Just my type of poem. I greatly enjoyed the ending!

    Yes, you are right, Rossetti might have painted the portrait… I’ll have to check it out.

Comments are closed.