Critical Analysis of Red Red Rose by Robert Burns: 2022

Critical Analysis of Red Red Rose

After a superficial reading, it may seem that ‘A Red, Red Rose’ is only a one-dimensional love poem. However, that is not the case. Upon closer inspection, we can interpret the poet’s love for the Scottish maiden with his love for Scotland itself. It has long been a practice among writers to compare landscapes with the female body. This was especially popularised during colonial times. The coloniser was often depicted in paintings as well as a conqueror over the female body. In the eighteenth century, when Burns was writing, such paintings and works of literature must have been a pervasive influence on contemporary poets. Burns was no exception. In declaring his love for the young lady in this poem, Burns is actually declaring his admiration for his homeland. The way in which he lovingly describes the landscape of the island supports this interpretation. Finally, when he says that though he may move away from the maiden but will one day return to her, he is saying that he might travel away from Scotland but will surely return to his native country at some point of time in his

Poetic Devices

Rhyme scheme:

The first two stanzas of ‘A Red, Red Rose’ have the same rhyme scheme – ABCB. And the remaining two stanzas have a similar, but slightly different rhyme scheme – ABAB. Both these rhyme schemes are simple, and give the poem a sing-song rhythm. This simplicity of rhythm is a characteristic one readily associates with folk songs, and hence it is no surprise that Burns’ poem is no exception to this rule.

Rhetorical devices:

1st stanza:

Simile: This rhetorical device is used when an overt comparison is made between two different things. In this stanza, the poet uses the device of simile first when he compares his love for the Scottish maiden with a rose that is red in colour, and again when he compares his love to a tuneful melody, in both cases using the word “like”.

2nd stanza:

Apostrophe: This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses an invisible audience through his or her poem. In this stanza, the poet uses the device of apostrophe when he tells the Scottish maiden (who is not visible to us as we are reading the poem) that she is attractive, that he is in love with her, and that his love for her is permanent.

3rd stanza:

Metaphor: This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things. In this stanza, the poet uses the device of metaphor when he compares his life with the sands of an hourglass, but never uses the words “like” or “as” in the process.

Central Idea of the Poem

In this poem, Burns declares his love for his country with an allegory of his love for a Scottish maiden. He says his love will last even after he has died. He compares this love to the beauty and perfection of nature. He also says that though he may be bidding her goodbye, he shall one day return to his beloved, though a distance as large as ten thousand miles may separate them.

Themes of the Poem

Love for nature: As previously mentioned, Burns’ poetry was a major influence on the Romantics because of the similarity of his mindset with theirs. Just like the Romantics, in particular Wordsworth and Shelley, Burns is enamoured of nature. He uses natural metaphors in this poem for he feels that only with the beauty of nature can the beauty of his love be compared. This nature may be as soothing as the one that Wordsworth finds a refuge in, and may also be the turbulent one (as when Burns imagines the rocks of the earth melting in the intense heat of the sun) that Shelley admires.

Longevity of life: In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Elizabethans and the metaphysical poets all wrote about the brevity of life, and preached the philosophy of ‘carpe diem’ (meaning ‘seize the day’) to remedy it. However, Burns does not think like them. He feels that life is very long, and compare its passing with the slow movement of sand from the upper glass bulb to the lower glass bulb in an hourglass. He therefore knows that his long life might transport him elsewhere, away from his homeland. But he vows that he will return to Scotland, and that his love for her will survive the test of time.

Tone of the Poem and Conclusion

Tone of the Poem:

‘A Red, Red Rose’ is a poem that abounds in expressions of love, and promises made to the beloved. Its tone goes hand in hand with such content. One can sense the admiration in the poet’s voice. There is only a light tone of fatality when he talks about going away from his beloved, but in the moment, that disappears and is replaced with a love-filled promise to return.


‘A Red, Red Rose’ is one of Burns’ most popular poems, and one can easily see why. Its content is simple, and accessible to all readers (even those unfamiliar with the Scots dialect). More importantly, it speaks of the universal emotion of love – whether for a woman, or for a nation. In both cases, the subject matter is relatable and appeals to readers in all walks of life.

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