Robert Burns’ “A Red Red Rose” is an effusively romantic poem, both in structure and content. It is written with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, which make it a type of ballad. The poem’s balladic structure enhances its romantic message by connecting it to the well-known romanticism and sentimentality of the genre.
The narrator begins the poem by comparing their “luve” to both a “red, red rose” that is “newly sprung” and a “melodie” that is “sweetly played in tune” (Burns lines 1-4). These are common romantic similes which, alongside the ballad structure, set up the passionate tone of the poem.
While the “luve” mentioned in the first stanza could refer to either the narrator’s love or their lover, the following stanzas are explicitly addressed to “my bonnie lass” and “my dear” (Burns lines 5, 8). In these stanzas, the narrator draws upon natural imagery to represent the passing of time and ensure their lover of the longevity of their affection. They state “I will love thee still, my dear / Till a’ the seas gang dry… And the rocks melt wi’ the sun… While the sands o’ life shall run!” (Burns lines 7-8, 10, 12). These exaggerated claims illustrate the strength of their love through impossible to imagine natural phenomena. Just as one can’t imagine the seas without water, the narrator can’t imagine their life without their love. The repetition that occurs among these phrases further reinforces the narrator’s vehement claims of devotion while simultaneously enhancing the poem’s balladic lyricism.
Interestingly, these claims of eternal love contradict the first stanza’s similes, which compare the narrator’s “luve” to ephemeral objects (Burns line 1). “Newly sprung” roses die, melodies end, and instruments fall out of tune (Burns line 2-4). These comparisons (especially the one to “newly sprung” roses) suggest the beauty of a new relationship, as well as its inevitable impermanence (Burns line 2). The relationship between fleeting beauty and love is directly contrasted in the lines “As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, / So deep in luve am I” (Burns lines 5-6). The use of the phrases “as fair” and “so” suggest a connection between the lover’s beauty and the narrator’s adoration of them; while their lover is beautiful, they love her deeply, but will this dim alongside her appearance? (Burns lines 5-6). Perhaps the narrator is saying their love will remain as intense as if it is new, for as long as they can envision.
Finally, in using both the Scots spelling “luve” and the English spelling “love,” the narrator gives a sense of universality to their affection. This enhances their final claim that their love would endure anywhere, even “ten thousand mile” away from their lover (Burns line 16). Overall, these romantic declarations encompass popular romantic themes by representing the impermanence of beauty and nature.