of Work and Year of Composition
"Red Red Rose" is a love
poem written to be sung. Robert Burns based it on a folk version of a song
he heard on his travels. Burns completed the poem in 1794 in an English
dialect called Scots for publication in collections of traditional Scottish
Burns wrote the poem in four
quatrains (four-line stanzas) with the following characteristics:
In each stanza, the second
and fourth lines end with masculine rhyme.
End Rhyme also occurs in the first and third lines of the third and fourth
of the longer lines are in iambic
tetrameter; the shorter ones, in iambic
trimeter. Iambic tetrameter is an eight-syllable line with alternating
pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. Each pair makes up a foot
so that each tetrameter line has four feet, as in line 5 :
trimeter is a six-syllable line with alternating pairs of unstressed
and stressed syllables. Each pair makes up a foot so that each trimeter
line has three feet, as in line 2 of the first stanza:
Burns clearly states and
restates the theme: The speaker loves the young lady beyond measure. The
only way he can express his love for her is through vivid similes and hyperbolic
Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns
Written in 1794
O my Luves like a red,
Thats newly sprung
O my Luves like the melodie,
Thats sweetly playd
Summary, Stanza 1
The speaker presents two
the first comparing his love to a rose and the second comparing his love
to a melody. The speaker also uses repetition to echo his sentiments--my
luve's like in lines 1 and 3; that's newly and that's sweetly
(pronoun, verb, and adverb combinations) in lines 2 and 4.
As fair art thou, my bonnie
So deep in luve am
And I will luve thee still,
Till a the seas
Summary, Stanza 2
The speaker addresses the
young lady as bonnie (pretty). Bonnie is derived from the French
bon (good). In the last line of the stanza, a'
means all and
gang means go. This line introduces to the poem hyperbole,
a figure of speech that exaggerates.
Till a the seas gang dry,
And the rocks melt
wi the sun:
And I will luve thee still,
While the sands o
life shall run.
Summary, Stanza 3
The speaker links the first
line of the third stanza with the last line of the second stanza by repetition.
The speaker continues hyperbole in the second and fourth lines. He also
again relies on repetition in the third line by repeating the third line
of the second stanza.
And fare-thee-weel, my only
And I will come again, my
Tho 'twere ten thousand
Summary, Stanza 4
The speaker again addresses
his beloved, noting that though he must leave her for a while he will return
for her even if he must travel ten thousand miles. Repetition occurs in
the first and second lines, and hyperbole occurs in the last line. Fare-thee-weel
means fare thee well.
Questions and Writing Topics
1. Write a two-stanza poem
that imitates the rhyme and meter of Burns's poem.
occurs in the first line of the poem: red,
What are two examples of alliteration in the fourth stanza?
3. Analyze another Burns
poem. Choose from Burns's
Poems and Songs in Harvard Classics.
4. Explain the meaning of
the last line of the third stanza.
5. English varies from country
to country and from region to region (or from social class to social class)
within a country. For example, ....Americans
refer to the luggage compartment of a car as a trunk, and Englishmen refer
to it as a boot. Here are other examples: truck ....(U.S.),
lorry (England); while (U.S.), whilst (England); elevator (U.S.), lift
(England); corn (U.S.), maize (England). In England, members ....of
the working class often drop the
h sound at the beginning of words
such as hat or had. "Red, Red Rose" is written in an ....English-language
dialect called Scots. As is readily apparent in the poem, this Scottish
dialect contains many words not used in ....standard
English. Write an informative essay about the peculiarities of the English
spoken where you live. You might note, for example, ....that
people in your area refer to the dressing ladled on mashed potatoes as
sauce but that others refer to it as gravy. Or, you might ....point
out that you use the word pop to refer to what others call soda
or soft drink or that you use the term lightning bug to refer to
a ....firefly or glowworm.