Settling Into Stanzas: The “Salley Gardens” of Yeats at Lower Cataract Lake
As summarized by T. S. Eliot: “Bad poets deface what they take and good poets make it into something better.”
Mr. William Butler Yeats borrowed an old Irish folk song and made it into one of the most popular poems of all time, “Down by the Salley Gardens.” The story goes that Yeats was visiting Ballisodare County at Sligo — a small village in northwest Ireland — when he overheard an old peasant woman singing a folk song. She was likely singing the song, “The Rambling Boys of Pleasure,” but she sang it imperfectly. Yeats took the few lines she could remember and turned them into the poem we see today. Yeats is, arguably, Ireland’s greatest artist. He wrote volumes of poetry, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. He grew up in an artistic family: his brother painted and his father ran an art studio, where a young Yeats met other artists and writers. His mother told them Irish folk stories, which explains why the peasant woman’s song caught his ear.
The peasant woman’s song may have caught his attention for another reason too — unrequited love. Yeats published “Down by the Salley Gardens” in 1889. That same year he met Ms. Maud Gonne, who immediately caught Yeats’ attention. He became infatuated with her, but she did not reciprocate. Over the next decade he proposed marriage to her on no less than four occasions, and each time she turned him down.
Perhaps Yeats had just been turned down (for the first time) when he heard the old woman’s song. Gonne wanted to move slowly, like the leaves and grass growing, but Yeats would not listen to her. Eventually, she brought him to tears.
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Hike to Lower Cataract Lake
If you are looking to move slowly and enjoy the green grass and falling leaves, the hike around Lower Cataract Lake won’t leave you in tears.
The trail is a gentle, 2-mile (round-trip) walk around a beautiful mountain lake. Because of the mild slopes and abundant moisture, Cataract Lake is home to a variety of flora and fauna. This time of year, the changing colors make the trail even more beautiful than ever.
The trail is located in northern Summit County, near Heeney. To get there from Interstate 70, take Exit 205 north onto Highway 9. Pass through Silverthorne and then go another 15 miles to Country Road 30. Turn left at Heeney Road (CR 30) and travel another 5.3 miles until you reach Country Road 1725 (Cataract Creek Road). Turn left again, and another 2.5 miles will bring you to the parking lot and trailhead.
The trail is a simple loop trail around the lake. You can go either clockwise or counter-clockwise — both provide the same great experience. As you stroll around the lake, expect to see aspens, lodgepole pines, wildflowers and willows.
Or, should I say, “wildflowers and saileach.” There isn’t an actual place called the Salley Gardens, or at least there wasn’t when Yeats wrote the poem. Rather, he probably used the word “salley” to refer to the Irish word “Saileach,” which means “willow.” The pronunciation of salley and saileach are quite similar.
Willows are abundant along the river that runs through the town of Ballisodare, just as they are around this alpine lake. May the sun shine, all day long, as you enjoy the salley gardens of Lower Cataract Lake.
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