ABOUT BOOKS No.3

northern musetartan burns

ROBERT BURNS POETRY

THE NORTHERN MUSE (An anthology of Scots vernacular Poetry)

I’ve had a very small red tartan covered book of Robert Burns poems for years and years, from the days when I was a very impressionable girl in love with poetry. Again, it is a bit battered because it’s been handled and read so much. It is one of my most loved books but now I come to find it today, it’s nowhere to be seen. It had one of my favourite poems in it, ‘My love is like a red red rose,’ but having said that, when I look it up in The Northern Muse, (which is edited by John Buchan who wrote The Thirty Nine Steps) I find the real poem begins, ‘O, My luve is like a red, red rose,’ which makes it somehow more heart-breakingly lovely.

Burns was born in 1759 and died in 1796. His father was an unsuccessful tenant farmer in Ayrshire and life was very hard for all the Burns family. I can understand Robert turning to poetry to offset some of the hardness of that life.

Here’s the poem:

O, my luve is like a red, red rose, / That’s newly sprung in June: / O, my luve is like the melodie / That’s sweetly played 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: / And 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 love, / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!

My computer doesn’t like the dialect in this poem and is underlining words with wiggly red lines as fast as it can. ‘Weel,’ is as you have guessed, ‘well.’

I remember reading the line ‘And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:’ in such absolute astonishment at this deep and beautiful image, that I felt somehow I had moved from one world to another. It affected me very much. It was like seeing Burns’ soul written on the page.

It still has the same effect now.

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