A Red Red Rose

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.  

4 thoughts on “A Red Red Rose”

  1. I found it really interesting that you talked about how their love is temporary. I personally read it as their love will stay true but it will not always be in a “honeymoon stage.” When an instrument is out of tune, it can still play the song but it is not as beautiful, perhaps that is like their love. However, as you mentioned, lines 5 and 6 really point to this idea of love fading because beauty fades. Also, I wonder why poets often connect love with music, perhaps it is because music gives people hope.

  2. I really love this analysis, especially the juxtaposition between the eternal, hyperbolic love and the more ephemeral love. I am wondering if you would want to compare this love poem with the extinguished love Burn’s describes in “Ae Fond Kiss”? How does Burns describe everlasting vs ended love? Could you make a claim that “Red Red Rrse” will lead to where “Ae Fond Kiss” is (maybe with your use of the ephemeral objects)? Or do you think they are completely different?

  3. I like how you highlighted the significance of the narrator comparing his “luve” to objects, and nature, in particular. To expand upon this, this metaphorical language used by the narrator in this instance is very typical of the romantic period in terms of identifying emotions with nature. Something interesting to consider as well is if Burns differentiates the meaning of the different spelling of love in anyway. In Ae Fond Kiss, love is spelled in the English spelling, “love” rather than including the Scots version, “luve” as well.

  4. I really enojoyed this analysis of Burns’ poem! I think you make great and important theoretical claims regarding the temporality of the superficial-type love the narrator has for their love compared to their action. I would like to propose an additional reading that may deal with the territorialization of Scotland by England, and if that’s why we may see to variants of the word “love.” “Luve,” as it is the Scotch spelling may connect to the country and the Scottish background that the narrator may have for their country; while the English spelling, as it is seen only in action, may be the activeness of the feeling, resembling the activeness of the English. A stretch, sure, but a thought to consider possibly with some additional historical context (of which I know little of).

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