“Wha Is That At My Bower-Door”, analysis of the poem by Robert Burns

History of creation and publication

The poem was written in the 1790s. Published in the five-volume edition of James Johnson’s “Scottish Museum of Music” (1787 – 1797).

Theme, genre and literary direction

The theme of the poem is the adventures of a rural don Juan. It, like most of Burns’s poems, is written on a simple motif of a folk Scottish song, i.e. not so much for reading as for musical performance. Thus, the main genre of the poem is song. At the same time, there is a narrative (ballad) genre element and a dramatic element, since this is a scene (dialogue) from rural life.

The author, a villager himself, a simple man, frankly admires his characters and, as it were, urges the reader to share his admiration for this night scene characterizing the ease and simplicity of village morals. And the reader – a modern progressive person of the Enlightenment – of course must share the author’s enthusiasm, based on the educational principle: “Everything that is natural is beautiful.” Moreover, Findlay’s image can be considered autobiographical, since it is known that Robert Burns not only promoted, but also led a “free” lifestyle; at least three women are known (not counting his constant lover Gene Armor, whom he eventually married and gave birth to five children with), with whom he had occasional short relationships, and each one gave birth to his daughter from these connections.

Composition and images

Both in the original poem and in the well-known Russian translation by S. Ya. Marshak, this village scene has the form of a “dialogue with gradual concessions”. Each new stanza brings rural Don Juan Findlay closer to a new victory. First, a woman drives him away, comparing him with a thief (this comparison is not translated by Marshak). Then he assumes that he is “capable of anything” (translated: “I suppose you are doing things”). Further, in the form of an “unthinkable” assumption, he says that he will let him into the house: “Gif I rise and let you in”, which the translator conveys with the help of the imperative mood used in such cases in Russian colloquial speech: “Open the gate for you … ” To which Findlay calmly replies: “Let me in” (“Well!” Said Findlay). Then the woman complains:

Before the morn ye’ll work mischief;
Indeed will I, quo’ Findlay.

Then she suggests (and Findlay immediately confirms it) that the matter will not end one night. And finally she begs to keep their relationship a secret, to which he also easily agrees.

Findlay’s behavior is so natural that he himself is similar to a natural phenomenon. Like an echo, he repeats the girl’s words, changing the meaning to the opposite: everything – not everything. Sometimes he turns a question into a statement: “How dare you come to me?” – “Dare!” In another case, Findlay simply agrees with the girl’s indignation: “You will not let me sleep until dawn!” – “I’m not giving it!” Finally, Findlay, subtly feeling the emotion of the interlocutor, prompts her to the desired, but outwardly denied action: “Open the gate for you …” – “Well!” The entire subtlety of Burns’s relationship, followed by Marshak, is conveyed using a variety of syntactic constructions.

Size and rhyme

The poem was written by an energetic song iambic, with alternating four-foot and three-foot verses, with cross rhyming, and in all six stanzas short lines (second and fourth) are Findlay’s answers to his companion’s questions (i.e., to the correspondingly longer stanzas – the first and third), after each answer – words of direct speech input (“Findlay said”), and thus the name of the village don Juan in each stanza is repeated and rhymes with itself.

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