O My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose Analysis
A Red, Red Rose is one of those two hundred songs of Burns that popularised and celebrated his name in the late 18th century. Those songs are exuberant with his romantic zeal and temper as also his craftsmanship as a singer-poet among the new pre-romantic poets, better known as the precursors of romanticism.
Love is a popular poetic theme and different poets are found to treat this with all its fervour and fever, passion and pain, in their own individual way. The Elizabethan poetic masters, like Sidney and Spenser, the great metaphysical poets, such as Donne and Marvell, have love as their poetic theme, although, as indicated already, not even course is found followed by them all.
Robert Burns, the Scotch transitional poet of the 18th century has also rich contributions to English and Scottish love poetry. He is here a more traditional follower of the Elizabethans, particularly of Spenser, than of the metaphysical masters, with their obscurity in style and the use of intricate conceits.
Burns’ A Red, Red Rose, is a love song, one of the two hundred popular love songs written by him. The poem is simple, straight and was no ambiguity in the poet’s expression as well as passion of love.
Of course, there is a point to be noted in connection with the interpretation of a poem on of love. A poem may be on absolute love, divine love, filial love, or love for nature as also a man’s love for a woman and vice-versa. The term love poem is, however, interpreted mostly as a poem of sex love of the love of one sex for another. Here Burns’ poem fulfils the just condition and brings out the intensity and the eloquence of his love for his beloved woman.
Burns speaks in the present poem of his love, that is woman whose beauty he celebrates and his depth of love for her. In this respect, as already suggested, his song has a close resemblance to Spenser’s sonnets of the Amoretti series.
Burns’ song begins with an unqualified admiration for his ladylove. He is all lost in his love for her and much of this lies in her loveliness and freshness. To him she is all beautiful and fresh, like ‘a red rose, blooming in June’ and bears the melody of a sweetly played tune. There is no hesitation or suppression on part of the poet in his praise of the physical beauty of lady concerned. This is also found continued in his assertion- ‘As fair art thou, my bonie lass’. This sensuality in love seems to echo Spenser and anticipate Keats.
But Burns’ love is not exhausted merely in the appreciation of the physical charm of his beloved. It contains a good deal of his emphasis on how much does he love her. Here, he goes to assert that his love will not be going to extinguish or grow pale with the passage of time. It will remain ever with him, for this is deep and positive. He affirms to her that he will continue to love her till ‘the seas gang dry’ and ‘the rocks melt wi’ the sun’. His final contention is clearly heard in the next two lines,
“I will love thee still, my Dear
While the sands of life shall run.”
There is not the least doubt in the poet’s exaggerations. Such exaggerations are quite common in love poetry, particularly in romantic love poetry, as seen in Spenser, Sidney, Byron, Shelley and Keats.
In the concluding stanza, the poet does not forget to mention his temporary separation from his beloved. This is in the vein of the metaphysical master Donne. But here, again, the poet exaggerates and assures his beloved of his return to her in no time, even if he remains at a distance of ten thousand miles from her.
A Red, Red Rose is a typical traditional love song that states straight the depth of love and the charm of the beloved. This is marked with all the warmth of passion and the sense of satisfaction in love. Nothing of the Shelleyan restraint or melancholy is heard anywhere here.
Burns is noted, along with William Blake, as the most potential pre-romantic poet whose poetic genius is truly romantic and most perfectly echoes the romantic notes to appear a few years after his death. Of course, as a pre-romantic, Burns differs from Blake to some extent. There is little of Blake’s mysticism in his poetry and his love for nature is much simpler than Blake’s. In his humanism, impulsiveness and imaginative range, so powerfully manifested in his imagery, Burns stands high as a pre-romantic.
The romantic imagination in Robert Burns is well marked in his description of the ladylove in particular. He speaks of her loveliness, freshness and sweetness in a graphic imagery in the very opening stanza of the poem
“That’s new sprung in June.
O my Luve’s like the melodies
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.”
The comparison of the ladylove to a red rose and to the sweet melody are well conceived and suggestive of the romantic aspect of Burns’ poetic craft. Again, symbolism is also adequately made alive through the ‘red rose’ as also ‘sweetly played tune’..
Yet, the beauty of nature is here well brought through the precise imagery of the ‘red rose ‘newly sprung in June’ or in the rocks melt with the sun’ and ‘the seas gang dry.
The poem comprises four stanzas of four lines each. In each stanza, the second line and the fourth rhyme together, while the first and the third usually go unrhymed. The stanzas are usually written in imabic tetrameter and tri-meter alternating.
“And fáre / thee wéel, / my on/ly lúve!
And fáre / thee wéel / a while ! And I will come / agáin / my lúve,
Thó it wáre / ten thou / sand mile!”
The lines are alternate iambic tetrameter and trimeter. There is one variation. The first foot of the first line is anapaestic.