What is a full critical analysis of "John Anderson My Jo" by Robert Burns? Please provide some line-by-line explanations or critical commentary on the poem.  

Expert Answers
droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, the speaker compares the journey of life to ascending and then descending a hill. It is written, like all Burns's poems, in Scots, and further, an older form of Scots which includes interesting linguistic features, such as "clamb" as a past tense of "climb." This is a strong past tense which has weakened in modern English (strong past tenses are those that do not end in "-ed," such as "swam" rather than "swimmed"). Other features are common to both older and modern Scots, such as "ane" for "one" (in Scots and Northern English alike, as in older forms of southern English, we see "a" where the modern speaker would expect to see "o").

The speaker is addressing her lover ("jo") or husband, stating that it is now time for them to "totter down" the hill of life hand in hand and together ("the gather") to reach the bottom—presumably, death. This is an imperative for all; everyone must ("maun") do this, but the speaker's tone is conciliatory: because they will do this together, it is not necessarily a sad thing. The two will sleep at the foot of the hill, a just ending after having spent "mony a canty day" (many a good day) together in life.

Other answers have described how the first stanza refers to John's formerly "raven" locks; now John is "frosty" with age and his brow is "beld" (bald). However, although John no longer looks as he did when he and his wife were first "acquent," she loves him just as much ("blessings on your frosty pow") and seems to look forward to descending the hill with him at last.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem “John Anderson, my jo” by Robert Burns is basically a romantic message by John’s wife to John as a summary of their past and her devotion to him until death. The poem also serves to celebrate aging love.

She begins by describing his looks the first time they met. She states that John’s hair was like the raven; this means his hair was black, but due to age and as stated in the sixth line, John’s hair is like snaw (snow), meaning his hair turned white. She further describes his face and braw in the fourth line, where she states that he was handsome and smooth. She also employs the word “jo,” which can be taken to mean “my love” or darling at every mention of his name. On the second verse, she points out what they have been through together, and the happiness they shared. They were strong then, but now they totter (walk slowly) together. She ends the verse by stating that, just as they have been together all their lives, they will also die together:

“And hand in hand we’ll go, And sleep together at the foot”.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem (like most of Robbie Burns's works) uses figurative language to represent the reality of aging, love, sex, and death. It also has a perennial theme of devotion and eternal love.

In the poem, a woman speaks to her husband, John Anderson, her jo (sweetheart/love) reminding him, first, on how his hair was once dark, and curly where now is balding and grey. Yet, she "blesses" it, meaning that she indeed still loves her husband.

She talks about how her and John have gone through life together, and basically how they have gone through the perils of aging, and will prob. meet in the afterlife after they die.

In  a naughty part, she even mentions his buttocks and how she understands that he may have lost the desire to make love with age, but that, although she would very much prefer that it came back to him, she is still devoted to him.

In the end, she mentions the word "sleeping" which, of course means dying. Hence, the last part of the poem is basically a declaration of undying and eternal love.