A Red, Red Rose

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"A Red, Red Rose" is a 1794 song in Scots by Robert Burns based on traditional sources. The song is also referred to by the title "Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose", "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" or "Red, Red Rose" and is often published as a poem.


 My luve is like a red red rose
That's newly sprung in june;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune;

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve 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;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

Origins of the song[edit]

Publication in A Selection of Scots Songs Harmonized Improved with Simple and Adapted Graces by Peter Urbani, Edinburgh, c. 1793

Burns worked for the final seven years of his life on projects to preserve traditional Scottish songs for the future. In all, Burns had a hand in preserving over 300 songs for posterity, the most famous being "Auld Lang Syne". He worked on this project for James Johnson's the Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803) and for George Thomson's five-volume A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice. Burns had intended the work to be published as part of Thomson's selection. However, he wrote to a friend that Thomson and he disagreed on the merits of that type of song. "What to me appears to be the simple and the wild, to him, and I suspect to you likewise, will be looked on as the ludicrous and the absurd."[1]

Instead, Burns gave the song to Scots singer Pietro Urbani who published it in his Scots Songs. In his book, Urbani claimed "the words of The Red Red Rose were obligingly given to him by a celebrated Scots poet, who was so struck by them when sung by a country girl that he wrote them down and, not being pleased with the air, begged the author to set them to music in the style of a Scots tune, which he has done accordingly."[2] In other correspondence, Burns referred to it as a "simple old Scots song which I had picked up in the country".[3]

Other sources have been suggested as an inspiration for Burns. A contemporary poem, "O fare thee well, my dearest dear", written by a Lieutenant Hinches bears a striking similarity to Burns's verse, notably the lines which refer to "ten thousand miles" and "Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear". A ballad originating from the same period entitled "The Turtle Dove" also contains similar lines, such as "Though I go ten thousand mile, my dear" and "Oh, the stars will never fall down from the sky/Nor the rocks never melt with the sun". Of particular note is a collection of verse dating from around 1770, The Horn Fair Garland, a copy of which is thought to exist bearing an inscription "Robine Burns aught this buik and no other". A poem in this collection, "The loyal Lover's faithful promise to his Sweet-heart on his going on a long journey" also contains similar verses such as "Althou' I go a thousand miles" and "The day shall turn to night, dear love/And the rocks melt in the sun".[1][2]

The lyrics of the song are simple but effective. "My luve's like a red, red rose/That's newly sprung in June" describe a love that is both fresh and long lasting. David Daiches in his work describes Burns as "the greatest songwriter Britain has produced" for his work in refurbishing and improving traditional Scots songs including "Red, Red Rose" which he described as a "combination of tenderness and swagger".[4]

Musical performances[edit]

Urbani published the song to an original tune that he wrote. The song appeared in Johnson's Museum in 1797 to the tune of Niel Gow's "Major Graham" which was the tune that Burns wanted. In 1799, it appeared in Thomson's Scottish Airs set to William Marshall's Wishaw's Favourite with the lyric "And fare thee weel awhile" changed.[citation needed]

The song became more popular when Robert Archibald Smith paired it with the tune of "Low Down in the Broom" in his Scottish Minstrel book in 1821. This has become the most popular arrangement.[citation needed] The song has been widely performed by a range of artists in the 20th and 21st centuries including Jean Redpath, Pat Boone, Kenneth McKellar, the Fureys, Eddi Reader, Camera Obscura, Eva Cassidy, Izzy, and Ronnie Browne of the Corries (in his solo album after Roy Williamson's death, 'Scottish Love Songs'(1995)).

Robert Schumann composed a setting of a German translation of Burns's poem in 1840.[citation needed]

Singer and actor Pat Boone performed the song on piano in the 1959 film adaptation of A Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Modern choral arrangements include a four-part, a cappella version by David Dickau, an intimate, Irish folk music-influenced setting, also SATB a cappella, by Matthew Brown ("A Red, Red Rose", published by Santa Barbara Music), an accompanied SATB setting by James Mulholland as well as a broader version by American composer René Clausen. Clausen's arrangement incorporates a piano, two violins, and a four-part chorus. (SATB) A Swedish translation and recording named "Min älskling (du är som en ros)" was made famous by the renowned Swedish musician Evert Taube.

Carly Simon sang a solo version of "A Red, Red Rose" on the album The Simon Sisters Sing The Lobster Quadrille And Other Songs For Children that she produced with her sister Lucy Simon. A version of Oh My Love is like a Red, Red Rose by Italian singer Ariella Uliano was performed with classical guitar accompaniment on the album Leave Only Your Footsteps Behind.

Eva Cassidy sang a slightly modified version titled "My Love's Like A Red Red Rose" which is featured as a live performance on her posthumous album "Somewhere".

The lyrics are included in the song "Final Breath" by the post rock band Pelican on their album What We All Come to Need.


When asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, American singer songwriter Bob Dylan selected Burns' 1794 song A Red, Red Rose, as the lyrics that have had the biggest effect on his life.[3]

The title of the 1935 short story "Till A'the Seas" by H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow comes from the first line of the third stanza of "A Red, Red Rose".


The song is highly evocative, including lines describing rocks melting with the sun, and the seas running dry. Burns may have been inspired by the concept of deep time put forward a few years earlier by geologist James Hutton in his Theory of the Earth in 1789. [4] [5] Hutton and Burns were contemporaries, and would have mixed in similar circles in Edinburgh.[4]


  1. ^ Letter from Burns to Alexander Cunningham, cited in The Burns Encyclopedia article on Pietro Urbani
  2. ^ Urbani in "Scots Songs" Burns Encyclopedia op. cit.
  3. ^ Letter from Burns to Alexander Cunningham 1794 Burns Encyclopedia op. cit.
  4. ^ David Daiches, British Writers Volume 3 British Council 1980, pp. 310–323


  1. ^ Burns, Robert (1834). Motherwell, William; Hogg, James (eds.). The Works of Robert Burns. A. Fullerton. pp. 274–277. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  2. ^ "O My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose". Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century. Glasgow University. 14 February 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  3. ^ Michaels, Sean (2008-10-06). "Bob Dylan: Robert Burns is my biggest inspiration". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-06-11. Dylan has revealed his greatest inspiration is Scotland's favourite son, the Bard of Ayrshire, the 18th-century poet known to most as Rabbie Burns. Dylan selected A Red, Red Rose, written by Burns in 1794.
  4. ^ a b "A Red, Red Rose". Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 2015-01-25.
  5. ^ "Geography Lessons". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2015-01-25.


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