‘A Red, Red Rose’ by Robert Burns is a poem that is in the ballad formation of four-line stanzas with ABBA rhyme schemes, and that format automatically links the reader to concepts of love and emotion. With the addition of metaphors and similes that describe the narrator’s affection and the woman who holds that affection, the narrator attempts throughout the lines to express the depth of his “luve.” This could be a final reassurance to his “dear” since the ending stanza reveals that he has to leave her for “awhile,” but regardless of the reason, the main element of this work remains the “luve” itself.
Through repetition, simile, metaphor, and structure, Burns has created a work that dives into the heart of this narrator’s affection.
The poem was also translated into Swedish by Evert Taube and put to music to become a big hit. It seems Burns’ poetry makes a habit of being transformed into song.
A Red, Red Rose Analysis
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
Without question, this first stanza expresses the core focus of the poem, which is for the narrator to declare his affection for his “Luve.” That the endearment of “Luve” is capitalized gives the title a higher level of significance than what a lowercase concept would address, as if this title is a proper name attached to the person. The reader does not need to know the name of this lady. The nickname is sufficient to distinguish who this person is to the narrator.
The spelling of the word, “Luve,” is less modern as well, which takes this concept into a historical era. That strategy elevates the amount of romance that is a part of the situation since ideas of chivalry and codes of historic courtship are evoked with the spelling. From that, even if this poem were written today (which it admittedly was not), the language would reach back into those older times to resurrect outdated, but appreciated, concepts of love and romance.
What the narrator has to say about his “Luve” is that she is “like a red, red rose.” As a “rose” is the flower most connected to romance, this is a strong simile. In addition, “red” is seen as a color of passion, so to attribute that color to the “rose” twice in a row deposit a hefty amount of passion to the romance—so much that the color must be repeated.
Beyond the concept of the “rose,” the narrator relates his “Luve” to the “new[ness]” of June and a “melody [t]hat’s sweetly played in tune.” This indicates the relationship is so refreshing that he feels renewed through it like a summer day, and a song is in his life because of his “Luve” that is “sweet” and perfect. These ideas are highly relevant to the ballad formation of this poem because they are obvious connections to things that are linked with romantic love. With every new idea brought to the stanza, it seems, the narrator is searching for a means to address the fulness of his “Luve.”
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
The second stanza of ‘A Red, Red Rose’ begins by stepping back from addressing the narrator’s feelings and actions to compliment his “bonnie lass” for being “[s]o fair.” Once that compliment is set in stone, the narrator returns to his own feelings by clearly stating that he is “[s]o deep in luve.” It is noteworthy that “luve” in this scenario is no longer capitalized, potentially because it is used as a verb rather than a noun to address the woman he cares for. That differentiation could be an indication that the woman is more significant than the actual action of “luve,” as if the only reason he is able to experience this grandness of emotions is because of her. For any other person then, the “luve” would be less significant.
From there, the narrator declares he “will luve [her] still…[t]ill a’ the seas gang dry.” This is a clever way of saying his affection for her will continue forever, and as strong as that declaration is, the narrator feels sure of it. This could be because his “luve” itself is as “deep” as “the seas,” and just as they will not “dry” up, he knows for certain his “luve” will continue as well.
One final thing worth noting in this stanza is that the narrator utilizes a new term of endearment for his “Luve,” and that is “dear.” This term, however, remains lowercase, perhaps because it is not a strong enough noun to fully represent his affection for this woman. It must be “Luve” to successfully address it, and only once it is addressed to that full extent does it merit capitalization. Otherwise, any term of endearment will fall short and merit lowercase lettering.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
The narrator begins this third stanza by repeating the idea that he “will luve” her “[t]ill a’ the seas gang dry” and adds in the repeated endearment of “my dear.” This reveals how strongly the narrator feels about this concept and how desperate he is to ensure that his beloved understands how long his affection will endure. In a poem that is only sixteen lines, repeating information severely limits the ideas the poet can address, so to spend so much time on this one concept highlights how relevant and important it is to the narrator.
From there, the narrator continues with his declarations of how long his “luve” will survive, specifically addressing “rocks melt[ing] wi’ the sun” and “the sands o’ life…run[ning].” What this indicates is that as long as the world continues as it is, and so long as “the sands o’ life” allow him to exist, he “will love” this woman.
Interestingly, the spelling of the word, “luve,” has changed in this stanza to a more modern, “love.” This in itself could represent the long reach of his affection, that it is both historic and modern—past, present, and future. Overall, the narrator wants the vastness of his “love” to be revealed, and the language does a remarkable job of doing just that.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
Though ‘A Red, Red Rose’ does not address why, it is evident in this fourth stanza that the narrator must leave his “luve.” It is worth noting that the spelling of the word has returned to the more historic form, but also that he is addressing his “luve” in lowercase letters in this stanza. What this could indicate is that by leaving, his “luve” must be set aside, and that lower level of priority is showcased in that lowercase approach.
Whatever reason this narrator must leave, he does not go without reassuring his “luve” that he “will come again,” even though “ten thousand mile” separate them. The pairing of the plural, “ten thousand,” with the singular, “mile” can be seen as evidence that the length of the distance separating them does not matter. Whether it is multiple “mile[s]” or only one, the narrator is certain he will return to his “luve.” That determination is yet another indication of how deeply his “love” runs, as is the repeated notion of “fare thee weel.” As was already noted, repeating concepts in such a brief poem is a serious decision since so much of ‘A Red, Red Rose’ is then represented in a handful of words. That his parting words include the advice—or the plead—for her to be well highlights how much he wishes her to “fare…weel” during his absence. This shows a level of caring beyond what he experiences when she is physically near.
Though the “luve” must be put aside for “awhile,” the narrator’s affections still remain, and the depth of that affection is the key element of this poem.
About Robert Burns
Robert Burns was a Scottish poet born in 1759, and though he lived less than forty years before his 1796 death, he managed to pen a number of poems and become a staple in Scottish literature. Though controversial, his poems still remain relevant in today’s society.