Explain the author's use of figurative language in "The Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Robert Burns published "A Red, Red Rose" in 1794.  It is a well-known Scottish ballad, which means it was intended to be sung. 

The first person narrator of the poem describes is lover in beautiful and complimentary terms. Using two similes in the first verse, he compares his lady to the beauty of a red rose blooming [notice it is not just a red rose but a red, red rose for emphasis] in spring and also a lovely song which is sung sweetly.

In the next stanza, the poet uses hyperbole which is an obvious and deliberate exaggeration not to be taken literally since it is exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. First,  he says that his love will last until all the seas run dry. To further emphasize his loves endurance, he will love this beautiful girl until the rocks are melted by the sun.

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.

To finalize his point, Burns tells her that his love will last until the sands of his life run out.  Here he refers to the hour glass with the sands running through counting the seconds.  Then, the poet bids farewell to his sweetheart, promising that he will return to her again, even if he is 10,000 miles away.

Through his use of unusual comparisons and exaggerations, this has become an often quoted love poem.  His  vocabulary choices for the representation of the girl are quite lovely: a rose, a sweet melody, a bonny lass.


The poet's background may explain part of the meaning of the poem.  For his time, Burns was rather promiscuous.  He did love a young woman who became pregnant with his twins.  Her parents refused his marriage proposal, so Burns set out to sail the seas.  When he did return, Burns married the young woman.  Between writing poetry and farming, Burns spent the rest of his brief life with his lady love. 


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