Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“A Red, Red Rose,” also titled in some anthologies according to its first line, “O, my luve is like a red, red rose,” was written in 1794 and printed in 1796. The song may be enjoyed as a simple, unaffected effusion of sentiment, or it may be understood on a more complex level as a lover’s promises that are full of contradictions, ironies, and paradoxes. The reader should keep in mind the fact that Burns constructed the poem, stanza by stanza, by “deconstructing” old songs and ballads to use parts that he could revise and improve. For example, Burns’s first stanza may be compared with his source, “The Wanton Wife of Castle Gate”: “Her cheeks are like the roses/ That blossom fresh in June;/ O, she’s like a new-strung instrument/ That’s newly put in tune.” Clearly, Burns’s version is more delicate, while at the same time audaciously calculated. By emphasizing the absolute redness of the rose—the “red, red rose”—the poet demonstrates his seeming artlessness as a sign of sincerity. What other poet could rhyme “June” and “tune” without appearing hackneyed? With Burns the very simplicity of the language works toward an effect of absolute purity.
Readers who analyze the poem using the tools of New Criticism or other twentieth century critical approaches will observe, on the other hand, contradictory elements that seem to work against the speaker’s innocent protestations of love. The first two lines of the second...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
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