illustrated profiles of a man and a woman set against the backdrop of a red rose

A Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns

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Analyze the poem "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns.

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The structure of this poem is four four lined stanzas, while the rhyme scheme varies in the first half and the second half.  In the first two stanzas, the second and fourth lines rhyme (Stanza 1:  “June” and “tune” and Stanza 2:  “I” and “dry”), while in the last two stanzas, the rhyme pattern features the second and fourth lines rhyming again, but the first and third lines end with the same word.  This helps to create the rhythmic and song like quality to the poem. 

The surface meaning is about a speaker who is naturally in love.  The speaker uses several examples of figurative language to relay the relevancy of love.  For example, the opening line and title compares love to a “red, red rose.”  This simile brings forth the mental picture of vibrancy and intensity, as it links one’s love to a traditional flower of love, the rose. 

This is continued with invocation of how love is a song “in June,” indicating temperate conditions filled with sun.  The length and breadth of the speaker’s love is continued in the second stanza with its comparison to the depth of the “seas.”  The surface meaning concludes with an emphasis of the speaker’s love in the last two stanzas, which serve to reemphasize the intensity and commitment of the speaker’s love. 

The symbolic meaning of the poem is to convey the passion and intensity that is involved in being in love with someone. 

A theme could certainly be that there are many ways to redescribe one’s love, many metaphors or ways of expression which help to clarify what it means to be in love with someone. 

The tone of the poem is exalting of love, joyful of being in its presence, which mirrors the mood of enthusiasm and joy.  In terms of the appreciation of the poem, I think anyone who believes in the power of love could appreciate much of what the poet employs here.  However, there is one dilemma that is present.  There is little to indicate why there is an emotional connection present.  We realize that the speaker is in love and they truly believe in the authenticity of this expression.  However, there is little else to indicate that this love is spiritually or emotionally inclined. 

If we continued to examine the poem in this light, we see that this might be infatuation or a surface type of love.  This might be something that resides in the mind of the reader, but it should be raised in terms of trying to gauge what statement might lie or its level of appreciation.

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What is the close reading of "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns?

Robert Burns's poem can also be read as the lyrics to a song. One can readily imagine the speaker singing it to their beloved. The speaker actually changes address within the poem. They begin using third person to speak about their "luve," then switch in stanza two to second person direct address, speaking to their love.

Stanza one uses two similes that employ "like": love is like a rose, and love is like a melody.

In Stanzas two, three, and four, the speaker uses hyperbole (extreme exaggeration) to tell the "luve" how much they love her. "Gang" is colloquial Scottish word for "go." "The sands of life" is also a metaphor for time that refers to an hourglass.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run. [. . .]
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
The last stanza changes tone as well. While the speaker has been declaring eternal love, they indicate a brief separation ("fare thee weel awhile"). This may indicate the context of the poem or song, showing that the speaker specifically composed it before taking leave of their love.

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