Summary of A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns: 2022

Annotation Stanza-wise

Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition, Pr=Pronoun

1st stanza:

Luve (N): In the Scots dialect, people use the letter “u” to spell “love” instead of the letter “o”

Sprung (V): Originated or arose from

2nd stanza:

Fair (Adj): Light; blonde

Art (V): An older form of the word “are”

Thou (Pr): An older form of the word “you”

Bonnie (Adj): Attractive or beautiful

Lass (N): A girl or young woman

A’ (Adj): Short form of the word “all”

Gang (V): “Go” in Scottish

3rd stanza:

Wi’ (P): Short form of the word “with”

O’: Short form of the word “of”

4th stanza:

Fare (V): Travel

Thee (Pr): An older form of the word “you”

Weel (Adj): An older form of the word “well”

Fare thee weel: Goodbye

Awhile (Adj): For a short time

Summary of A Red, Red Rose

The poem consists of four stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of four lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of sixteen lines in total.

1st stanza:

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

In this stanza, the poet says that his love is like a red rose that has taken birth in the springtime, during the month of June in particular. What he seems to be saying by this is that his love has come into being suddenly, but it is very natural; love has, of course, been a part of human life since ancient times. And the poet’s love is a beautiful and uncomplicated thing. The poet also compares his love to a melody that is played perfectly in tune. What this means is that love has the potential to be pleasurable, but only if one puts in some amount of effort and sincerity in one’s love. The poet believes he has done that.

2nd stanza:

So 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.

In this stanza, the poet directly addresses the young lady for whom his love has arisen. He tells the woman that her complexion is fair, and she is very attractive to him for that reason. She is a typical Scottish maiden after all and that is why he is so deeply in love with her. The poet also promises that his love is not a temporary or fleeting emotion, but rather one that he will harbour in his heart for a long time. In order to give the young lady a sense of the longevity of his love, he compares it to the length of time it will take for all the seas on the face of the earth to run dry of all their waters. That is to say, the poet will love the maiden even after they have both passed away.

3rd stanza:

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.

The first line of this stanza is a repetition of the last line of the previous stanza. This should not come as a surprise to readers since repetition is a big part of folk songs, and account for much of their popularity since repetition ensures that these songs can easily be sung along to by listeners. The poet once again tries to assure the young lady f the longevity of his love for her. He says that he will love her till all the seas run dry, and till every single rock on the earth is melted by the heat of the sun. This second event can only happen when the sun expands enough to reach the earth’s surface – an event that can take millions of years. Hence this metaphor of longevity is even more convincing than the first one. Finally, the poet tells the maiden what she must have inferred already – that his love for her will not diminish at any point of time in his lifetime. Burns here compares his life with a hourglass in which the sand falls leisurely from the upper glass bulb to the lower one. What the poet means is that time might pass slowly, but his love for her won’t fade.

4th stanza:

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

   And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

   Though it were ten thousand mile.

In this stanza, the poet bids goodbye to the young lady for whom he has just professed his love. However, in the very next instant, he clarifies that this is no final goodbye, and it won’t last forever. The poet promises the maiden that even though he is leaving now, he shall return to her one day. He might move very far away from her, and to make her realize the distance to which they might be separated he tells her that he might be ten thousand miles away. However, he will traverse even that great distance to return to this woman for he loves her with all his heart.

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