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A Red, Red Rose

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Originally published  1 September 2007

Author  Robert Burns
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Similar  Tam o' Shanter, Poems of Robert Burns, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Kilmarnock volume, The Tyger

"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.


A red red rose by robert burns poetry reading

Origins of the song

Burns worked for the final ten 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]

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

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.

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. 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.

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.

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

Moscow-based indie rock band "Red Red Rose" derives its name from the poem and has a song called "RRR" inspired by the poem.


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.


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 . Hutton and Burns were contemporaries, and would have mixed in similar circles in Edinburgh.


A Red, Red Rose Wikipedia