AD's English Literature : Analysis of Robert Burns' "A Red Red Rose": Adaptations of Traditional Scottish Ballads and Folk Songs

Analysis of Robert Burns' "A Red Red Rose": Adaptations of Traditional Scottish Ballads and Folk Songs



Introduction: Burns's literary output consisted almost entirely of songs, both original compositions and adaptations of traditional Scottish ballads and folk songs. He had used the Scottish lowland vernacular to rhyme in about then neighbors and their scandals, their loves and their church. Himself at the confluence of the two streams, the national and the local, he has such favorites as “Auld Lang Syne,””Comin' Thro' the Rye, “Scots Wha Hae,””A Red, Red Rosé, “The Banks o' Doon,” and “John Anderson, My Jo.” His “Red Red Rose" ,first published in 1794 in A Selection of Scots Songs, edited by Peter Urbani , is a love poem also written to be sung. Ballad in form it is an adaptation of old Scottish folk song.


Rhyme Scheme: Written in four ballad stanzas (quatrains) with iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively "A Red, Red Rose" has a sweet metrical rhythm. In each stanza 1st and 4th lines rhyme together while only in two occasions in 3rd and 4th stanza, 2nd and 4th line rhymes together.

O my /Luve's like/ a red,/ red rose
That's new/ly sprung/ in June;
O my/ Luve's like/ the me/lo-die
That's sweet/ly played/ in tune.

As fair/ art thou,/ my bo/nnie 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/ lu-ve /thee still, /my dear,
While the /sands o' life/ shall run.

And fare/ thee weel,/ my on/ly Luve,
And fare/ thee weel/ a-while!
And I/ will come /again,/ my Luve,
Tho' it ware/ ten thou/sand mile.

Analysis of the Poem: With the music in heart the poet- speaker composes his sweet words of love in the following verses. The speaker loves the young lady beyond measure. Through vivid similes and hyperbolic comparisons he has drawn his love to the spring time rosy hues or to the sweet melodious tunes.  His ladylove is as fresh as the newly sprung rose or as sweetly as those of melodious tune:
“O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.”

Next the speaker addresses directly his lady as bonnie or pretty and asserts his love in hyperbolic terms that he would continue his love still all the seas go dry. The infinite urge of love and its permanency can be copied from these statements. Here one cannot miss the use of two words: Bonnie and gang. Bonnie is an Adjective used in Northern England and Scotland means attractive while gang originates from Old Norse gang "journey":
“As 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 speaker continues his exaggerating mood linked to the previous stanza and states that he will continue to love his lady till the rocks melts way or life leads to desert of death. “Sands o’ life” probably means the passage of time which is compared to the vast desert land:
“Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.”

In the last stanza the speaker bids adieu but vows to return even if he has to travel back ten thousand miles. The speaker tries to imply a deep underlying statement that through the desert of death he will have to travel miles towards uncanny, unknown transitional worlds; he will return for his love:
“And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it ware ten thousand mile.”

Conclusion: Burns touched with his own genius the traditional folk songs of Scotland, transmuting them into great poetry, and he immortalized its countryside and humble farm life. He was a keen and discerning bard. His love songs, perfectly fitted to the tunes for which he wrote them, are, at their best, unsurpassed. Judging by comparative popularity of "A Red, Red Rose", I should say that the sentiment most deeply implanted in the human heart is love. This sentiment goes more attractive when sung. It may be objected that in "A Red, Red Rose" there is only one word, and but two or three forms of words that are not English. But the accent, the rhythm, the air of it are all Scots, and it was a Burns thinking in his native tongue who wrote it. It is easy to see that though Burns admired unaffectedly the "classic" writers, his native realism and his melody made him a potent agent in the cause of naturalism and romance. In his ideas, even more than in his style, he belongs to the oncoming school of romanticism.

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