Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
First things first, Shmoopers. Just what in the wide, wide world of sports is a "salley garden"? Well, we're happy you asked.
The word "salley" is translated from its original Gaelic (saileach) as a kind of willow tree. So the "salley gardens" we see here refers to a kind of garden with lots of willow trees. (Here's a photo of a pretty one.) They're also pretty common in Ireland, and we know Yeats wrote a lot about all things Irish.
Here, the speaker meets his love in a garden surrounded by willow trees. It's a pretty typical romantic setting, so we're already feeling the status quo vibe of a typical ballad.
Notice too that the speaker is using a first-person point of view, so the romantic vibe is felt even more since the poem sounds as if it's coming straight from the speaker's heart. Check out our "Speaker" section for more.
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
If the willow trees didn't convince you that we're dealing with a typical ballad with romantic imagery, then the girl's "little snow-white feet" certainly will.
Here the speaker's love is passing through the gardens looking pure, petite, and romantic.
Notice the perfect end rhyme we have too, in lines 2 and 4: "meet" and "feet." Ballads usually always work with perfect rhymes, so our speaker is keeping with the tradition.
We can also say a little bit about the kind of meter we're seeing so far. It seems the speaker is using a kind of iambic trimeter with the occasional variant thrown in now and then. Hear that daDUM daDUM daDUM pattern, especially in the even-numbered lines? That means we have an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable the combine a total of three times for every line. This kind of meter makes for a very catchy rhythm that sounds predictable, and is therefore easy to remember.
Check out our "Form and Meter" section for more on how this poem is put together.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
Now we get a bit of wisdom that the girl is looking to impart: she tells the speaker to take love easy or, in other words, don't rush things so much. Be like the leaves on the tree that take their time to grow.
We have a nice little simile here to help illustrate the girl's advice. And since we're dealing with some more romantic, natural imagery with trees and such, we notice that the speaker is keeping things pretty consistent in terms of setting.
We wonder if these lush surroundings will inspire our speaker to take the girl's advice. Let's read on, gang.
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
By the time we get to the end of the first stanza, we realize that the speaker is telling his story in retrospect, looking back. We get the feeling that the speaker is significantly older than the young man we see in the poem, especially since he tells us here that these were the days when he was "young and foolish."
And why is he foolish? We're assuming he didn't take his young lover's advice and probably rushed things in their relationship.
Maybe the girl got scared, or maybe she fell in love with someone less pushy. Who knows?
So we're dealing with a speaker who's looking back on his young, foolish, pushy misadventures. Perhaps now he's got some wisdom after being such an epic fail at relationships. Check out our "Themes" section for more on his lessons learned.