Kerry Ellis

Writer. Editor. Designer. Creative Outlet.

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Down by the Salley Gardens

I. Text

Down by the Salley Gardens, by W.B. Yeats

 

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.

 

II. Annotations

My favorite poem by one of my favorite Irish poets, based on a recollection of an old song. Later put to music, it's become something I sing often—and always with the same image in my head.

I wanted to use this project as a way to clear out that old image and think about the poem anew. For something so short, I had an awful lot of annotations.

I read this as each stanza being from a different part of the poet's life: the first when he is young (But I, being young...), headstrong, and too busy to slow down and heed his love's advice; the second when he is old (But I was young...) with stooped shoulder, meeting his love either in memory or reality, regretting that he did not slow down and enjoy more while he was in his youth.

I wanted to capture the nostalgia of past and present.

III. Sketches

A few ideas. Some posit that "Salley" is how the Irish word saileach is pronounced, which means "willow." I loved the idea of the willow as a sense of place and mood—weeping as the poet does himself in the last line.

(If anyone would like to use the above template for their own project, I've uploaded a copy here.)

IV. Early Designs

I'm also a photographer, so it's usually the first medium I turn to. I grabbed my camera to photograph willows outside my door, moving the camera during a long exposure to get the blur I felt would represent the memory of the poet looking back on this place—as well as what it might look like through his tears.

Loved the idea, but not how it turned out. So I went an illustrative route, more clean and modern.

Better, I felt, but a bit too bland.

I looked back at my sketches and wanted to try the Yeats portrait version I'd scribbled.

I loved this, but it didn't feel quite right for the poem. While it literally illustrated the poet at the two stages of his life in the poem, it felt too biographical in nature.

But the B&W and vintage photography pushed me to my final idea, which I actually thought was my weakest on screen. When printed, however, with the other ideas wrapped around books I placed on my shelves, it was the one that most intrigued me to take a closer look.

V. Final Design

So I ended up with the double exposure of a vintage photograph of a man in a business suit with the willows framing the man's shoulder and overlapping his lapel and breast.

To me, it symbolzed the poet in his youth, too busy with work, life, and the hustle and bustle of the world to appreciate the quiet time at the river with his love, and the ache in his heart when he is old, carrying that memory of the peace of that place with him.

Not at all where I thought I'd end up.

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