Flicking through a culture magazine recently, I discovered a striking and rather brilliant printed advertisement. Emblazoned across an iconic black and white image of Bob Dylan are the opening lines of Robbie Burns’ poem A Red Red Rose.
Dylan selected this quotation as his ‘biggest inspiration’, as part of the ‘My Inspiration’ advertising campaign for HMV. You may wish to read more about the story here, in today’s online edition The Guardian.
Or simply sit back, read, enjoy…
O, my luve’s 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!
O I will luve thee till, my Dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only Love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!
Like a delicious cake, there are lots of ingredients that make this poem work. Notice the simplicity of the rhyme (‘June’/‘tune’, ‘I’/‘dry’, ‘sun’/‘run’, ‘while’/‘mile’); the comforting, lullaby nature of the repetition (‘Till a’ the seas gang dry. / Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear’); the speaker’s constant awareness of his love, his ‘Dear’; and the glorious boldness of the final two lines ‘And I will come again, my Luve’ / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!’
This has to be one of the most beautiful love poems ever written. Composed in 1794, it has defeated time and inspired readers for over two hundred years – and will undoubtedly do so for two hundred more.