From the recording The Road Out of Town

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We found this song in Sam Henry's Songs of the People,10 and recognized it as a version of "Down By the Salley Gardens," a well-known song which was published by William Butler Yeats in 1889. However, Yeats based his poem on a verse from an old broadside ballad, "You Rambling Boys of Pleasure," which dates back as far as 1785.3 The meaning and origin of the title has been the subject of much speculation - the Latin name for the weeping willow is salix, and willow is often called "weeping sally." Many farms had a willow grove that was harvested for basket-making and the constant pruning caused the willow to grow ever more dense. The resulting thickets, the "salley gardens," were a favorite place for lovers to meet. One would assume the translation of "salley gardens" into "Sally's garden" would have happened over time as people misunderstood the Latin reference. However, it is the older written sources which assume that Sally is a girl rather than a shrub, so who knows? The tune, the same one Yeats used, comes from another ballad called "Maids of Mourne Shore."


It was down in my Sally's garden, upon an ivy bush,
At morning and at twilight, there sings a sweet song thrush.
His notes come clearly ringing, and tidings to me tell,
And oh, I know already my Sally loves me well.

I kissed her milk-white features one silv'ry eve of May;
She whispered, 'Won't you wander until the close of day?'
We wandered in her garden, the flowers were wet with dew,
I saw the love-light beaming in her fond eyes of blue.

It was down in my Sally's garden, where snowy hawthorns blow,
My heart became love-weary when I at last must go.
The bloom was on the hawthorn that night I said farewell;
I left my Sally weeping down by an ivied dell.
I left my Sally weeping that night I said farewell.*