Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns (1759-1796)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Text With Summaries
Analysis and Comments
Study Questions
Writing Topics

Type 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 ballads. 


Burns wrote the poem in four quatrains (four-line stanzas) with the following characteristics:

End Rhyme

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 stanzas. 


Most 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 :

AS FAIR | art THOU | my BON, | nie LASS
Iambic 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:
That's NEW | ly SPRUNG | in JUNE

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 comparisons. 

. ..
Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns
Written in 1794

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, 
  That’s newly sprung in June: 
O my Luve’s like the melodie, 
  That’s sweetly play’d in tune. 

Summary, Stanza 1

The speaker presents two similes, 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 lass,
  So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
  Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Summary, Stanza 2

The speaker addresses the young lady as bonnie (pretty). Bonnie is derived from the French word 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, my dear,
  And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
  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 Luve,
  And fare-thee-weel, a while! 
And I will come again, my Luve,
  Tho’ 'twere ten thousand mile!

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.

Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Write a two-stanza poem that imitates the rhyme and meter of Burns's poem. 
2. Alliteration occurs in the first line of the poem: red, red rose. 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.