O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair

Robert Burns


Robert Burns

Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, was a Scottish poet widely regarded as the "national poet of Scotland."

He is known for writing in a "light Scot's dialect."

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns was written around 1793, a few years before the French Revolution and the Romantic movement in English literature. It is a song that makes use of both the Scottish language and the English Language. Its tune is Hughie Graham or Hughie Graeme. Hughie Graham is Child Ballad, a collection of ballads anthologized by Francis James Child in the second half of the 19th century. However, Robert Burns first collected the tune. In this poem, Burns illustrates what he will do, if his love is as fair as a Lilac or like a red rose.

O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair by Robert Burns



‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns is a love lyric. Here the poet metaphorically compares his love to a Lilac flower and a red rose.

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns presents the poet’s desire to be a bird if his love is as fair as the purple Lilac flower. Then he will find a cozy nest in its bosom when wearied. Furthermore, he will sing wanton songs to the flower throughout the youthful May. In the next stanza, the poet wishes to be a drop of dew if his love is like a red rose. He will rest in its beautiful breast and feast on the beauty of the night. The poet will wait there till the sun rises in the morning and fade away thereafter.



‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns is a simple lyric that talks about how the poet cherishes the beauty of flowers. The meaning of the title is as simple as the subject matter of the poem is. Through the title, the poet refers to his wish. If his love is as fair as the Lilac that the poet is observing, then what he must do. It is the subject matter of the poem. The first line of the poem is the title. However, the poet also refers to the red rose and what he should do if his love is like that flower, in the second stanza.



‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns consists of two Burns stanzas. Each stanza contains a total of eight lines with an alternative rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza is ABABCDBD. Whereas in the second stanza the rhyme scheme is ABABCDCD. Moreover, each line of the poem contains eight syllables. Each foot consists of a stressed syllable after the unstressed syllable. For this reason, the poem is composed of iambic tetrameter. There are no such variations in the poem.


Literary Devices

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns contains several literary devices that make the poet’s thoughts more appealing to the readers. Likewise, in the first line of the poem, the poet uses a metaphor. Here, the poet makes a comparison between his love and the Lilac. Thereafter, the poet compares himself to a bird that takes shelter in the flower bed. Thereafter, the poet uses personification in the line, “By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!” The second stanza, likewise, begins with a metaphor of the “red rose”. Moreover, there is hyperbole in the line, “O there, beyond expression blest”. The poet also uses alliteration in the phrase, “silk-saft”. However, the last line contains another personification.



‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns presents several themes such as natural beauty, transience, love, and physicality. The most important theme of the poem is love. Being a love lyric, the dominant mood of the poem is that of love. Here, the poet compares his love with the beautiful Lilac and expresses his desire revolving around it. Thereafter, the poet refers to the dewy red rose and compares himself with the dew. The transience of natural beauty however triumphs at last. But, at last, the poet’s love nurturing the moment with care, stands victorious in the face of change.


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1–4

O were my love yon Lilac fair,

Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,

And I, a bird to shelter there,

When wearied on my little wing!

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns presents the beauty of the Lilac flower. It’s purple and blossoms in the Spring. The poet is in love with this flower. Henceforth, he compares it to his lady love. The poet says if the lady is like the Lilac, he can take shelter near the flower bed. Whenever he will be tired of flying, he can rest near it. From the last line, it becomes clear that the presence of the lady gives solace to the poet’s soul. By referring to the “little wing” in this line, the poet says how insignificant he is in comparison to the beauty of the lady or the flower.


Lines 5–8

How I wad mourn when it was torn

By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!

But I wad sing on wanton wing,

When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns talks about what the poet will do during autumn and winter. Naturally, in Autumn, the flower will wither and fall apart. Here, the poet uses personification and invests autumn with the idea of tearing the flower. Moreover, the poet refers to Autumn as “wild” and Winter as “ruse”. During those seasons, the poet will mourn the death of the flower as if his beloved has passed away. But, in May, he will sing his spontaneous lyrics overflowing with heartfelt emotions to the flower. However, the poet also personifies May and compares it to youth.


Lines 9–12

O gin my love were yon red rose,

That grows upon the castle wa’;

And I myself a drap o’ dew,

Into her bonie breast to fa’!

The second stanza of ‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns begins with the reference to the red rose. The poet talks about the rose that grows on the castle wall symbolizing freedom and beauty. If his love is like that rose, he won’t mind being a drop of dew cuddled in its bosom. The poet uses a metaphor and refers to the breast of his beloved in the last line of this section. According to the poet, he wishes to fall into the “bonie breast” of the rose. Here, “bonie” means fair or beautiful and the phrase contains an alliteration.


Lines 13–16

O there, beyond expression blest,

I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;

Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,

Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!

The last four lines of ‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns exaggerates the poet’s emotions for the sake of emphasizing his happiness. Here, the poet is out of words to express the happiness he finds at her bosom amid the beauty of the night. It seems that the poet hints at making love with his beloved. Whatsoever, the poet feels satisfied being a drop of dew if his love is like that rose. Moreover, he will hide in the flower’s silky soft folds till the morning. At last, the poet refers to Phoebus or sun compares it to be an antagonist in their love story. As it makes the dew fade away from the bosom of the rose.


Historical Context

‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns is one of the famous love lyrics of early romantic literature. The elements of early romanticism are there in the poem. The poet uses nature as a dominant motif in this poem like other romantics. However, the imagery used in this poem and his other poems such as ‘A Red, Red Rose’ influenced the later day imagist movement. Moreover, the use of the theme of transience and mutability was a stock-in-trade theme of the romantics. In this poem, readers can find this theme too.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair’ by Robert Burns, the following poems also present similar themes.

You can read about 12 Beautiful Spring Poems here.

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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