Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A Red Red Rose.
That`s newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That`s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I;
And I will love thee still my dear,
Till a` the seas gang dry.
Till a` the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi` the sun:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
And fair thee weel a while!
And I will come again my love,
Tho` it were ten thousand mile!
Robert Burns ( 1759 - 1796 )
I must have glanced at and then passed over this old poem in a college anthology yesterday, because at one in the morning I was awake with the emotion of it running round and around in my mind. I have never been any good at memorizing but I can remember the feeling of a poem very well. Now I am digging potatoes on a sunny Fall morning and multitasking by going over it again. Anything that insistent must be given some conscious thinking time.
Over this morning`s coffee I reread the poem carefully, - pulling it apart into its expressive elements. The two comparisons, a red rose and a melody. The declaration of love until the end of time; `til the rocks melt in the sun, `til all the seas run dry, while the sands of time shall run. The final promise of return, of constancy, though it were ten thousand miles. Very expressive stuff, but also very familiar and, like an old tune, often difficult to get past the by-now hackneyed expressions.
Hackneyed now perhaps, but the reason it is in the anthology is because at the time it was a revolutionary piece of writing and pointed to the future; the French Revolution, the Romantic poets that were to follow and how we understand the world and our place in it today. Here is an educated commoner ( unusual, except in Scotland, at the time) who writes to his love, not by dwelling on the quality and brilliance of his feelings but on eternity in a concrete, factual way. His love is not some court beauty, but the girl down the road. This is the beginning of the age of the common man.
So, why on this bright morning am I giving it a fresh pass through? The important part of this poem does not just dwell in words or ideas but in the reader`s own emotions as was Burns` intention. ‘And fair thee weel, my only love’ is written to a particular person and meant to dwell in her heart forever. It was never designed to have a shelf life of two hundred years, but even given the separation between his time and mine, even given the familiarity of ‘My love is like a red, red rose’, I am very moved.
That is the wonderful thing about the arts, they do not simply appeal to the intellect, but like an arrow, pierce directly to the heart. This poem is the epitome of that process. I stand with my shovel amid the growing pile of potatoes, perhaps in the same pose as farmer Burns himself took while dreaming up this poem for his girl, and feel that sweet emotion as though it comes, fresh minted, from within my own heart.