Study Guide

Down by the Salley Gardens Memory and the Past

By William Butler Yeats

Memory and the Past

The speaker is busy looking back to his youthful days of yonder in "Down by the Salley Gardens," so we know we're dealing with some ideas related to memory and the past. Since the ballad is about young love and all of the advice kids never take (come on, kids), the speaker's past serves as a lesson to be learned for those who might find themselves in similar situations. But he's not acting high and mighty about what he learned. Nope, in fact he sounds pretty honest about how foolish he was. At the same time, we may come to recognize that the speaker's struggle is just part of growing up. His looking to the past reminds him of how much he's actually come to learn about himself, so maybe it was worth being an epic fail.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How does the speaker's retrospective point of view help to contribute to the poem's theme of memory and the past?
  2. Does anything in the poem indicate that the speaker has learned from his mistake? If not, why not? If so, what? 
  3. How does the imagery of the girl's "snow-white" extremities contribute to the speaker's interpretation of his youth? 
  4. Is it ever really possible to take advice on love from someone else's past experiences, or is it a lesson a person needs to experience for oneself? Why?

Chew on This

Remembering his days when he was "young and foolish" is only really possible for the speaker after having learned something from his mistakes. Break ups: bad, but knowledge: good.

It seems, no matter how overdeveloped your brain is, a person will inevitably end up like the speaker who is "full of tears" because of young and foolish missteps. It's all part of growing up.

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