Analysis of Burn's Poem A Red, Red Rose

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Analysis of Burn's Poem A Red, Red Rose


'A Red, Red Rose', was first published in 1794 in A Selection of Scots Songs, edited by Peter Urbani. Written in ballad stanzas, the verse - read today as a poem – pieces together conventional ideas and images of love in a way that transcends the "low" or non-literary sources from which the poem is drawn. In it, the speaker compares his love first with a blooming rose in spring and then with a melody "sweetly play'd in tune." If these similes seem the typical fodder for love-song lyricists, the second and third stanzas introduce the subtler and more complex implications of time. In trying to quantify his feelings - and in searching for the perfect metaphor to describe the "eternal" nature of his love - the speaker inevitably comes up against love's greatest limitation, "the sands o' life." This image of the hour-glass forces the reader to reassess of the poem's first and loveliest image: A "red, red rose" is itself an object of an hour, "newly sprung" only "in June" and afterward subject to the decay of time. This treatment of time and beauty predicts the work of the later Romantic poets, who took Burns's work as an important influence.


'A Red, Red Rose' is written in four four-line stanzas, or quatrains, consisting of alternating tetrameter and trimeter lines. This means that the first and third lines of each stanza have four stressed syllables, or beats, while the second and fourth lines have three stressed syllables. Quatrains written in this manner are called ballad stanzas.


The ballad is a old form of verse adapted for singing or recitation, originating in the days when most poetry existed in spoken rather than written form. The typical subject matter of most ballads reflects folk themes important to common people: love, courage, the mysterious, and the supernatural. Though the ballad is generally rich in musical qualities such as rhythm and repetition, it often portrays both ideas and feelings in overwrought but simplistic terms. The dominant meter of the ballad stanza is iambic, which means the poem's lines are constructed in two-syllable segments, called iambs, in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed. As an example of iambic meter, consider the following line from the poem with the stresses indicated:

     That's sweet / ly play'd / in tune.

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"Analysis of Burn's Poem A Red, Red Rose." 19 Oct 2017
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This pattern exists most regularly in the trimeter lines of the poem, lines which most often finish the thoughts begun in the a regularity which gives the poem a balanced feel that enhances its musical sound.


In "A Red Red Rose" Burns is telling us what the epitome of love is to him. The similes he uses are meant to show us the grandness of love.   He compares his love to a rose and to a melody, showing us that love is beautiful and precious. Burns also shows us how love is not fleeting; that if it really is love it will always be there no atter how near or far the two people may be from each other.


In rhetoric, a Simile is a figure of speech in which an object is explicitly compared to another object. Robert Burns's poem "A Red Red Rose" contains two straightforward similes:

My love is like a red, red rose

  That's newly sprung in June:

My love is like the melody

  That's sweetly played in tune.

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