“My Love is like a red, red rose”, analysis of the poem by Robert Burns

History of creation and publication

The poem was written in 1794. 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 poem has been repeatedly translated into Russian (T. L. Schepkina-Kupernik, S. Ya. Marshak, I. M. Ivanovsky, etc.).

Theme, genre and literary direction

The poem “My Love is like a red, red rose” belongs to the best examples of the love lyrics of Robert Burns. The eternal theme of the poem – unfading love – is brightly and freshly embodied by the poet. Being an outstanding lyricist of the late Enlightenment, Burns and in his love poems tries to achieve maximum simplicity and concreteness.

Trails and images

Accurate and specific, Burns’s images do not tolerate themselves as ordinary love glorifications, requiring attention from both the reader of the original and a translator in other languages.

So, a rose is not just “blooming in my garden” (as translated by S. Ya. Marshak), and not just “in the summer,” as I. Ivanovsky clarifies. The whole poem is imbued with the joyful mood of the very beginning of summer, the mood of June, when roses bloom – as indicated in the translation by T. L. Shchepkina-Kupernik, which, however, an unfortunate inaccuracy also crept in:

My love is like a red red rose
That’s newly sprung in June.

“Heat” is not about June in the mountains of Scotland, not about the Scottish summer at all (at least during the time of Robert Burns). In the original – a feeling of freshness of the just-arrived summer, the fresh smell of freshly blossomed roses:

My love is like a red red rose
That’s newly sprung in June.

Comparisons and hyperbolas are the key pathways of this poem, as befits love lyrics. Comparisons easily and naturally “flow” into hyperbole, since nothing at all, no strength and no constancy, can not stand comparison with the love of the lyrical hero. And the only thing that is not inferior to this love is the charm of its very subject:

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I.

The love of the lyrical hero is not “Stronger than your beauty,” as the translation of S. Ya. Marshak claims. No,

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I.

as I. M. Ivanovsky completely translated it.

As is often the case with Burns, the poem consists of four quatrains. In this case, it is clearly divided into two equal parts in content. In the first two quatrains, love is compared with “neighbors”, “real” objects (rose, song, the lover’s beauty itself), and these comparisons do not lead to hyperbolization. In the last two quatrains, hyperbole prevailed, but not traditional, not beaten, but original, Burns:

Till a the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

However, Burns did not escape the hyperbole, traditional for love lyrics. Readers of later eras and even poets-translators of the twentieth century, this hyperbole, as a rule, goes unnoticed, is perceived simply as an indication of a long way or, for realism’s sake, underestimated exactly ten times, as in T. L. Schepkina-Kupernik:

And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

However, the last lines of the original clearly state:

And I will come again, my love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

But ten thousand nautical miles is about half the length of the equator, and thus the lyrical hero is going to make his way from his Scotland to somewhere in Siberia. For this or for some other reason, translators usually shun this hyperbole. Only I. M. Ivanovsky, faithful to the testament of his teacher M. L. Lozinsky, “Closer to the original! With all your might, reduce the angle between the original and your translation! ” – Exactly, almost verbatim passes this last stanza:

Goodbye goodbye my love
I will find a way to you
Let it be at least ten thousand miles
I will pass through the world.

However, S. Y. Marshak’s translation of the hyperbole about love is adequately conveyed in its own way – in a lightweight, folklore style, also not alien to Burns and his lyrical hero, who is about to go through the whole world:

Be happy my love
Goodbye and don’t be sad.
I’ll be back to you, even the whole world
I would have to go through!

Size and rhyme

The poem consists of four stanzas (quatrains). At the same time, the rhythm of the poem, like many other Burns poem-songs, is tied to the folklore dolnik of Scottish folk songs, but in this case it is close to the three-step iamba, which Russian translators strive to follow (S. Ya. Marshak and I.M. Ivanovsky).

Rhyme, as is often the case with Burns and (as a rule) in Russian translations – is cross-linked. However, in this poem, the rhyming of the first and third lines in all quatrains is very original. In the first two quatrains they do not rhyme at all. In the last two quatrains they simply end with the same words. Russian translators unify rhyming and non-rhyming strings according to the model of the first two quatrains.

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