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A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns: Summary & Analysis

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns: Summary & Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

One Scottish band 'proclaimed' they would walk 500 miles for their loves, but the Scottish poet of this poem said he'd go 10,000! Find out more about Robert Burns' longstanding love in this lesson with a synopsis and analysis of 'A Red, Red Rose.'

Synopsis

Anyone who's had to endure listening to their friend constantly talk about their significant other might be expecting a similarly long-winded proclamation of love out of poet Robert Burns in his poem 'A Red, Red Rose.' However, this poem is actually quite short at only 16 lines.

The poetic narrator starts off by saying that 'my Luve is like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June' and further compares her to a well-played piece of music. In the second stanza, he claims that this beauty is so extraordinary that he will love her until the seas have gone dry.

As the third stanza opens, the narrative voice reiterates his claim about the seas going dry and even says he'll go on loving her longer - as long as 'the sands o' life shall run.' In the fourth and final stanza, this passionate lover bids his 'only luve' farewell, but proclaims he'll return to her 'Though (the journey) were ten thousand mile.'

Now let's give Robert Burns' poem 'A Red, Red Rose' a read-through.

'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.

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.

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.

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.'

Analysis

Anyone familiar with Lionel Ritchie's 1981 hit 'Endless Love' knows the power of poetry sung about timeless devotion to the one you love. And when it comes to 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, 'A Red, Red Rose' was his 'Endless Love' for a couple of reasons.

For one, Burns actually makes his love timeless by putting a time limit on it, but once you see what that limit is, you'll understand why it's essentially the same as eternity. Secondly, this poetic song itself represents Burns' own endless love for traditional Scottish verse and ensuring its preservation. These elements combine to make 'A Red, Red Rose' one of literature's chart-topping hits.

When people talk about things like 'eternity' or 'forever,' they often don't stop to think how long that really is. For this reason, this sort of timelessness doesn't have any real scope for us. We can't really imagine how long 'forever' is when we ourselves are short-lived creatures 'like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June.' How do we discuss long periods of time in a way we can comprehend, then?

Anyone who has studied fossil records or has been to the nearest natural history museum knows just how incredibly long Earth's history is, as well as how long it still has to go should things keep going smoothly. Even though he wrote 'A Red, Red Rose' in 1794, Robert Burns was also aware of the mammoth scope of the geologic timescale. The narrator of his poem claims that 'So deep in luve am I' that his passion will last until the seas dry-up and Earth's crust itself begins to disintegrate' (Or as he put it: 'the rocks melt wi' the sun').

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