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A Red, Red Rose: Summary and Analysis

The poem ‘A Red, Red Rose’ has been composed by a Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is a lyrical ballad that describes the speaker’s deep love for his be

Summary of 'A Red, Red Rose'

A Red, Red Rose: Poem Summary and Analysis


The poem "A Red, Red Rose" is about the lovable feelings of the speaker towards his beloved. The speaker's love for his beloved is so deep. He compares his beloved with the new red rose of June and a sweet melody of a tune. His beloved is so beautiful like a red rose and the sweet melody of the tune. He wants to love his beloved forever like a red rose and the sweet melody of the tune. that's why he is making various promises. He wants to be with her and love her until earthly seas gang go dry, rocks melt and human life ends. He wants to be with her after a short separation no matter the journey is ten thousand miles long or it takes a long time. The speaker dedicates his life to his beloved who is quite beautiful.

About the Poet

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is considered the national poet of Scotland and a central figure in Scottish literature. His father was a tenant farmer, and Burns worked as a ploughboy. He grew up poor but well-read and began writing poetry in Scottish dialect. As an adult, he was as unsuccessful as his father in making a living at farming. In 1791, however, he quit farming for good and moved his family to the nearby town of Dumfries. Never in good health, on the morning of July 21, 1796, he died in Dumfries at the age of 37. He is best known as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement for his lyrical poetry.

Brief Summary of A Red, Red Rose

The poem 'A Red, Red Rose' is a lyrical ballad that describes the speaker’s deep love for his beloved and promises that this love will last longer than human life. The beloved of the speaker is as beautiful as the red rose and as sweet as the music. With the help of literary devices, the poet has sketched a very vivid and realistic picture of his profound love.

Summary in Detail

The poem ‘A Red, Red Rose’ has been composed by a Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is a lyrical ballad that describes the speaker’s deep love for his beloved. With the help of literary devices, the poet has sketched a very clear and realistic picture of his beloved. It has four stanzas in which he poured his deep feeling of love.

In the first stanza, we find the speaker comparing his beloved with a red rose which blooms in June. Similarly, he compares her to a melody that is played with the tune. The speaker thinks of his beloved as an attractive, fresh and delicate red rose of June. He thinks of her as the most beautiful woman of the world who is as sweet as melody and as beautiful as a red rose.

In the second and third stanzas, the speaker praises her beauty. He is fully influenced by her therefore he is in very deep love with her. He doesn’t want to stay away from her. He wants to be in the connection of deep love for a very long period of time. He loves her until the seas of earth go dry and the rocks melt with the sun. He loves her until he has blood in his body.

In the last stanza, the speaker talks about temporary separation but he is not so pessimistic about that. He is so hopeful to meet her and wishes a good life and bright future to his beloved. He farewells her at the time of temporary separation but he promises to meet very soon though the journey is ten thousand miles. He vows to be with her by defeating the challenges which are very tough. We find a very deep love of the speaker to his beloved in this poem. It is a poem of comparing, admiring, hoping and promising.

Exercise of The Poem A Red, Red Rose

Question Answer

a. How do people express love?

Answer : There are different kinds of love, love for country, love for pets, parental love, etc. But in the reference of this poem, it is about romantic love. Different people have different ways of expressing love. At the same time, expressing love depends upon in which culture one lives. Whichever the culture it might be, if you want to maintain a loving relationship, then it is important to show your loved one how much you love him/her. There are several ways to do so. But the best way is to express your care and concern for him/her. Some words of compliments showing positive feeling is also a good way. Little gifts, from jewelry to a simple flower, are also a good way of expressing love. But the best way to express love is to share his/her worries and responsibilities.

b. What is the symbolic meaning of 'rose'?

Answer: Roses are most commonly associated with love and romance. But it's not that simple. The symbolic meaning of a rose also depends on its color. For example, pink roses symbolize gratitude, admiration, and joy. White is for innocence and purity. The Red Rose is the symbol of love and romance. It represents true love. 

c. What images in nature would you use to express love? 

Answer: There are several images in nature that people use to express their love. Poets have found several images. There is no end to it. But mostly two images are frequently used to express love. They are; flowers, mostly red rose, and full moon. Personally, I like the image of a fresh red rose.

Understanding the Text

a. To which two things does the speaker compare his love in the first stanza ?

Answer : In the first stanza, the speaker compares his love to two things. First, he compares her to a fresh red rose, second, he compares her to a nicely played melody. While the first comparison describes her beauty, the second one tells us about her temperament. She is a very beautiful lady with a nice temperament and a kind heart.

b. What does the speaker promise in the second and third stanzas ?

Answer : In the second and third stanzas the speaker wants to assure his beloved about his infinite and never ending love for her. In the second stanza, he promises her that he will love her till all the seas go dry, which is impossible. In the third stanza again, he promises to love her till rock melts with the sun. In the last line of the third stanza, we find him telling her that he would love her till the last day of his life.

c. What imagery does he use in his promise, and why do you think he uses such language?

Answer: He uses the imagery of seas drying, rocks melting with the sun, and, finally 'the sands of life running'. He uses such imageries to express his unbound and never-ending love for her. Through such images, he has been successful in expressing his eternal love for her.

d. In the last stanza, what event is about to happen by mentioning the number of miles?

Answer: By mentioning the number of miles the speaker indicates that he is about to take a long journey (ten thousand miles). We, the readers, come to know that the lovers are soon to be parted.  But he assures her that however distance he might go, he will return to her.

e. Which image in the poem do you find the most memorable or surprising and why ?

Answer : The language of this poem is very rich. The poet has used several images in this poem. Among them all, I liked the image of 'the sands of life running'. Here he has compared every moment of life to sand running through the hour glass . He loves her every moment of life and will do so till all sand runs away. Thus it gives continuity of his love. 

Reference to the Context

a. What do you infer about the speaker's devotion to his beloved from the following lines ?

And I will come again, my love,
Tho' it was ten thousand mile!

Answer : This poem is mainly about two things : a. the purity and the beauty of the girl, b. the speaker's devotion to his love.  In these two lines from the last stanza, we find his devotion and faithfulness towards her. May be due to some reasons he has to take a long journey, but he will remain faithful to her.  He will not forget or deceive her. It is sure that he will certainly return to her one day. Any distance or any length of time can never overshadow his love for her. Thus he expresses his deep true love for her.

b. What is the theme of the poem ?

Answer : The dominant theme of this poem is love. In almost all the lines the speaker expresses his genuine and faithful love for his beloved. He compares her to a fresh rose and a sweet melody. His love is deep and strong, which will stay forever. He will love her till the last of his life. No distance or length of time will end their love. Besides, some other themes are aging, separation, promise, etc.

c. Paraphrase the whole poem into simple prose form.

Answer : The speaker's beloved is very beautiful. She is beautiful as a fresh red rose and a beautifully tuned melody. He is in deep love with her. He will continue to love her till all the seas dry and the rocks melt. He will love her till the last day of his life. The writer is going to take a long journey, so there will be a separation of them for some time. but the separation will not end their love. He will certainly return to her one day.

d. Literary devices are tools that enable the writers to present their ideas, emotions, and feelings and also help the readers understand those more profound meanings. Analyze the poem in terms of literary devices such as simile, symbolism, imagery, alliteration, and assonance.  

Answer : Literary devices are tools which help the poets/writers to present their feelings and emotions clearly. They help readers understand in a better way. Robhas ert Burns has also used some such devices. to describe the beauty of the lady and the depth of his love. Some major devices used are : simile, symbolism, imagery, alliteration, and assonance.

1. Simile: Simile is used to compare an object/person with something else to make meanings clear. The comparing word 'like' is used in a simile. 

The poet has used two similes in this poem.

The first simile is the first line of the poem. "My love is like a red red rose". Here he compares his beloved with a red rose. 

Second simile is "O my love is like the melody". Here he compares her with a sweet melody.

2. Symbolism: Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. Symbolism gives a symbolic meaning different from their literal meanings. Here the use of 'red rose' is an example of it. Red rose stands for love and romance. Here rose symbolizes the love between the speaker and his beloved.

3. Imagery : Imagery is the presentation of something that can be understood through the five senses. The poet used three (visual) imageries in this poem. They are :

a. "O my love is like a red, red rose"

b. "And the rocks melt wi' the sun!"

c. "While the sands o' life shall run."

4. Alliteration : It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. Here alliteration is in the following line :

"O my love is like a red red rose" 

Here /l/ sound is repeated in 'love' and 'like', and the/r/ sound is repeated in 'red red rose'. 

5. Assonance : It is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. In this poem, we find assonance in: 

"I will love thee still, my dear".

Here /i/ sound is repeated in 'will' and 'still'.

e. What is hyperbole ? Explain its purpose citing examples of hyperbole used in the poem.

Answer : Hyperbole is a device used to exaggerate something than it really is. Using hyperbole poets use overstatement for giving emphasis on something. It gives a good effect. Its main purpose is to give emphasis on something or to make a point. Here the poet has used hyperbole in two places :

1. "Till a' seas gang dry". This is hyperbole because seas will never dry. 

2. "And the rocks melt wi' the sun". This is a hyperbole because rocks never melt.

f. What is a refrain ? Why is it used in the poem ? Explain citing an example from the poem .

Answer : Refrain is a phrase, line, or group of lines repeated at intervals, generally at the end of the stanzas.  The line "And I will love thee still, my dear" has become a refrain because it has been repeated in the second and the third stanzas.

Reference Beyond the Text

a. What kind of love is expressed in "A Red Red Rose" ?

Answer : A very romantic and passionate love is expressed in this poem. As the title indicates the speaker is totally in deep love with the girl.  The metaphor "My love is like a red red rose" gives the expression of his love.  His love is undying and unending. It will never fade away whatever happens in the future. Every image in the poem tells his deep faithful love for her.

b. Do think that love has power ? Why do the poets compose poems addressing their beloved ?

Answer : Love is a strong feeling of affection towards someone or something special. One can do anything to keep this love. If love teaches us to endure (tolerate) any harsh situation in life, it also helps us take the right direction in life.  Love has different types : love for life, parental love, love for country or love for nation. Every way love is strong. It influences every part of our lives. It is not only enough to love somebody, it is also important to express it.  A poem is a collection spoken or written words, including ideas and emotions powerfully in a beautiful way.

Poets express their emotions through poems more easily. It is difficult to express such emotions  through other mediums. In order to express their love, feelings, or emotions powerfully they address their beloveds. They also immortalize their beloved in this way. But it is not always that all the poems are addressed to beloveds.

c. Poetry is the expression of feelings and emotions. Explain.

Answer: Poetry is a vehicle to express one's thoughts and expressions in a beautiful way. There is a saying in Hindi: the first poem must have been written by dipping pen in tears. Here 'tears' certainly indicate emotions.  Poetry reflects a person's emotional condition at one time. 

Poets express different emotions. It is not only love that they express, They also express emotions like pain, separation, hatred, desire, happiness, etc. There are poems about seasons, fear, love for country, etc. Any human emotion gets expressed through poetry in a powerful way. So, there is no debate that poetry is the expression of every human feeling. 

Some Additional Questions:

Identify a hyperbole in the second stanza.

Answer: In the second stanza we find the following hyperbole:

'And I will love thee still, my dear,

Till a' the sea gang dry.'

What is the mood of A Red Red Rose?

Answer: The mood of this poem is love and passion. The speaker has a deep love for his beloved. He has expressed his love for her in detail in the first three stanzas. It is only in the last stanza the romantic mood is mingled with the emotion of separation. But here also through a hyperbole, he has assured her of their reunion.

What does the speaker promise to her beloved in the last of the poem ?

Answer: The speaker promises his beloved that although he is going away from her, he will certainly return to her one day however long he might go?

What does the speaker do in the poem?

Answer: The speaker has expressed his genuine and eternal love to his beloved and has also promised of his return from his long and far distant journey.

Why is love compared to a red rose?

Answer: Here love is compared to a red rose because the red rose has been an ancient symbol of love in almost all cultures.

How long does the speaker say he will love his beloved?

Answer: He says he will love his beloved until seas become dry and rocks are melted by the sun. Then he adds that he will love her till the last of his life.

A Short Interpretation of A Red, Red Rose

View of the Poem : The speaker loves his beloved very much. She is extremely beautiful, like a fresh bloomed red rose. She is as sweet as a melody (played on any musical instrument) played in a fine tune. He will love her till the seas dry or rocks melt by the heat of the Sun. Finally, he says good bye to her with a promise to return to her one day.

Type of Poem : It is Burn's most well known love poem. It is a Lyric, written in a Ballad form. It is a lyrical ballad.

Theme : Permanent, deep genuine love/ Undying love/ Youth/ Aging/ Love, Separation and Promise

Main Symbol : The main symbol used in this poem is the red 'rose'. Red rose is the symbol of love and romance. 

Language : The language of this poem is very simple. It is rich in literary devices. It gives a picture of profound love.

Major Literary Devices: Some of the major literary devices used in this poem are: symbolism, Alliteration, Imagery, Hyperbole, Assonance, Anaphora, Anadiplosis, Paradox, Epistrophe, etc.

Tone: The tone of this poem is 'exalting love'. It is passionate, loving, and celebratory. He tells how much he loves his beloved. In the last stanza, he assures her of their infinite love. 

Composition: There are four stanzas in this poem. Each stanza has four lines. In other words, there are four 'quatrains'. Quatrain means four lines stanza.

Rhyme: Rhyme in the first two stanzas is 'abcb' and in the last two stanzas is 'abab'.

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