"A Red, Red Rose" is
written as a ballad with four stanzas of four lines each. Each stanza has
alternating lines of four beats, or iambs, and three beats. The first and
third lines have four iambs, consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by
a stressed syllable, as in da-dah, da-dah, da-dah, da-dah. The second and
fourth lines consist of three iambs. This form of verse is well adapted for
singing or recitation and originated in the days when poetry existed in verbal
rather than written form.
"A Red, Red Rose" begins with a quatrain containing two similes. Burns compares
his love with a springtime blooming rose and then with a sweet melody. These
are popular poetic images and this is the stanza most commonly quoted from the
The second and third stanzas become increasingly complex, ending with the metaphor of the
"sands of life," or hourglass. One the one hand we are given the
image of his love lasting until the seas run dry and the rocks melt with the
sun, wonderfully poetic images. On the other hand Burns reminds us of the
passage of time and the changes that result. That recalls the first stanza and
its image of a red rose, newly sprung in June, which we know from experience
will change and decay with time. These are complex and competing images,
typical of the more mature Robert Burns.
The final stanza wraps up the poem's complexity with a farewell and a promise of return.
Robert Burns, a poor man, an educated
man, and a ladies' man, is representative of Scotland, much like whisky, haggis, bagpipes, and kilts.
He lived a life shortened by rheumatic heart
disease, (1759-1796), but his life journey through poverty, informal education,
disappointed love, nationalism, and literary and financial success can be
identified by all Scots and common men the world over. He has become almost a
national symbol of all things Scottish. His life is like a love story with a
The Poet, Robert Burns - Robert Burns's
family raised seven children on sparse, rented farmland on the west coast of
Scotland. The family cottage still stands as a proud tourist attraction. The
family farm was not successful and the family moved from farm to farm. Life on
the farm in western Scotland was harsh and Robert worked long hours with his
Burn's father recognized the value of education
and he managed to hire a local teacher to tutor Robert. He was an extremely
bright student, mastering Shakespeare, current poets, French, Latin,
philosophy, politics, geography, theology, and mathematics. His father read
the Bible during the evenings around the cottage fireplace and Robert became
an expert on the Bible and a devout Church member.
Robert Burns wrote his first poem at age 15.
The poem was called "Handsome Nell" and was about his first love for
a girl named Nellie Blair. Throughout his life, Burns was a charming and witty
man, attracting the attention of numerous women. A dozen or more women can be
identified as the inspiration for various poems. Burns wrote many famous love
poems, including "A Red, Red Rose" and "One Fond Kiss."
Here's an excerpt from "Handsome Nell."
"O once I loved a bonnie lass,
Aye, and I love her still;
And whilst that virtue warms my breast,
I'll love my handsome Nell."
Burns, in a later comment on this poem, stated
that he had "never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet
till I got once heartily in love, and then rhyme and song were, in a manner,
the spontaneous language of my heart."
The Turning Point - In 1786, at age 27,
Robert Burns went through a major turning point in his life. He suffered a
disappointing love affair with Jean Armour, who was pregnant with his twin
sons. The local community and Armour's father were outraged by the affair and
her father rejected Burns's offer of marriage.
Dejected and depressed, Burns made plans to
leave Scotland and sail to Jamaica in the West Indies. To finance the trip,
Burns submitted a volume of his poetry for publication.
The publication of 612 copies in a simple,
unbound volume was called "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,"
also sometimes known as "The Kilmarnock Edition." The poems were
well received in Edinburgh by socialites who were enchanted by the poems and
amazed that a poor farmer could write so well.
So, instead of planning his escape to a new
world, Burns planned a trip to Edinburgh. His confident manner, ingratiating
style, and his obvious wit and intelligence brought Burns popularity and
admiration. Soon, a second publication of his work was executed in Edinburgh.
The Growing Popularity - During his stay
in Edinburgh, Robert Burns met printer James Johnson, who planned a project to
print all of the folk songs in Scotland. This project enthralled Burns and
embarked upon a journey throughout Scotland to collect as many folk songs as
possible. Burns collected over 300 songs and wrote a few himself, including
"A Red, Red Rose."
One of the results of his travels throughout
Scotland was that Robert Burns ingratiated himself to everyone he met and he
rose to national prominence and popularity.
The collected songs were published by Johnson
in six volumes and by George Thomson in a five volume set.
Another happy outcome of this turning point in
Robert Burns's life is that he was able to return home and marry his beloved
Jean Armour, now with the blessing of her family.
Robert Burns continued to collect and write
songs for The Scots Musical Museum, an anthology of traditional Scottish
lyrical poems, until his untimely death from rheumatic heart disease in 1796.
Within a few years of his death groups of
Robert Burns's friends and fans gathered to promote his memory and to
celebrate his life. By 1801, five years after his death, groups met on the
anniversary of his death, but later they began to meet on the anniversary of
his birth, January 25. Now there are many Burns clubs and societies who
celebrate his memory with dinners, including haggis, and readings of his
About the author: Garry Gamber is a public school teacher and entrepreneur. He is the National Director for Good Politics Radio and owner of an online Bookwise bookstore.
Haggis Recipe from
"The Scots Book of
Lore & Folklore"
For this, the greatest of Scots savouries,
is required: a sheep's bag, and the small bag, the pluck complete
(lights, liver, and heart), beef suet, onions, and oatmeal, with
seasoning of salt and black pepper. Thoroughly clean the bag, and
soak in cold salted water for at least twelve hours. Turn the rough
side out. Wash the pluck and the small bag, cover them with cold water,
and set to boil with the windpipe hanging over the side of the pot to let out impurities. Boil for an hour and
a half, or two hours. Then take out, and cut away all gristle and
pipes. Half the liver only will be required, grate this, and mince
the heart and lights. Make a mixture of this and half a pound of
minced suet, a couple of finely chopped onions, and a large cupful
of previously toasted oatmeal, all well moistened with some of the
liquid in which the pluck was boiled. Put the mixture into the large
bag, leaving plenty of room to swell. Sew the bag securely, and put
it to boil in a large pot of hot water. Prick the bag all over with
a darning needle as soon as it begins to swell, to prevent the
possibility of its bursting. Boil steadily for three hours with the
lid off the pot. Serve immediately.
A form of Haggis may be made without the sheep's bag, by putting the
mixture into a buttered basin, and steaming it for about four hours.