“Love and Poverty”, analysis of the poem by Robert Burns

History of creation and publication

Burns’ first poems were published in James Johnson’s five-volume edition of The Scottish Musical Museum (1787–1797) and George Thomson’s four-volume edition of Selected Scottish Songs in the Original (1793–1805). The song “O Poortith Cauld and Restless Love”, widely known to the Russian-speaking reader under the title “Love and Poverty” (translated by S. Ya. Marshak), was obviously written in the late 1780s. The song “Love and Poverty” by Vladislav Kazenin became the smash hit in the USSR to the text by Burns / Marshak, performed by Alexander Kalyagin in the film “Hello, I Am Your Aunt” (based on Brandon Thomas’s play “Aunt Charlie”), which premiered in late 1975 year, in the new year prime time.

Theme, genre and literary direction

Like many poems by Robert Burns, the song Love and Poverty undoubtedly belongs to the masterpieces of philosophical lyrics. Behind the unpretentious form of the “folk” song of the “peasant” poet lies the deep socio-philosophical convictions of a modern educated person brought up on the ideas of the European Enlightenment and the Great French Revolution.

The theme of the song is the simplest and most complex: what is true happiness? The song has a specific addressee: this is the girl whom the lyrical hero loves. Some Burns biographers even believe that the song is directed to the poet’s “main” lover Gene (Jeanie?) Armor, whom he eventually married and gave birth to five children with her. In the original, the beloved really has a name and her name is Janie:

O poortith cauld, and restless love,
Ye wrack my peace between ye;
Yet poortith a ‘I could forgive,
An ’twere na for my Jeanie.

And if this “Jeanie” is really the poet’s future wife, then this means that Robert’s arguments finally convinced Jean: you can live in love and happiness without having nobility and wealth, because

Wealth and honour, in the end,
give little happiness.
I’m sorry for cowards and fools,
resigned to its power.

Happy is not one who is noble and rich, but one who is poor, honest and in love:

That poor man is happy in the world,
With his easy Love,
Who doesn’t’ envy, in any way,
The merchants, the nobility. (rich estate)

Trails and images

Love striving not for happiness, but for wealth, fame and success is an important and very mysterious “character” of Burns’ song. Robert would not have been a poet if he had not tried to solve the riddle of such a worldview and behavior of his beloved with the help of vivid, artistically convincing metaphors. There are two of these important metaphors in the song: love is the “slave of wealth and success” and love is the flower that “does not bloom without glory and success”. So, in any case, in the translation of Marshak, where the first metaphor is at the beginning, and the second at the very end of the poem. In the original, this is one metaphor that naturally arises in the first stanza. Using this metaphor, the lyrical hero formulates two main questions addressed to his beloved:

O why should Fate sic pleasure have,
Life’s dearest bands untwining?
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on Fortune’s shining?

That is literally:

Ah, why does always the ill fate
Stand in the way of Love?
And Love’s flower is not in bloom
Without success and fame.

However, in Marshak’s translation, the metaphors of love are important, but not the main ones. From the very beginning, the poet-translator introduces one more, the main metaphor – everyday “networks”:

Love and poverty forever
They’ve caught me in their net…

Size and rhyme

The poem-song consists of three eight-stanza stanza couplets. Burns’s song of rhythm provides his maximum attachment to the folklore dolnik of Scottish folk songs. This is a four-foot iambic alternating full and incomplete iambic strings. Marshak uses a close-sounding Russian poetic size – a multi-part iambic. The rhyme in the original and translated cross. Due to the alternation of male and female rhymes, the possibility of alternating iamba is achieved, in which there are three and a half feet, with the correct three-foot iamba.

This entry was posted in Robert Burns. Bookmark the permalink.