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 played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonie 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 do 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. Robert Burns Songs.
It was a rule of thumb we aspiring poets in our youth learned from doggerel Valentine verses: avoid poems that bring together roses and June and moon or (as here) “tune”. They had become sentimentalised cliche.
But Burns’ beautiful song drawing on the widespread Scots folk-song tradition is neither cliche nor sentimental. The rose has been freshly observed at its sudden magical appearance “newly sprung in June” and its wondrous emergence is equivalent to the lover expressing his feeling for his beloved. The parallel beauty of music :”the melodie That’s sweetly played in tune” further confirms the wondrous feeling.
But the querulous voice might break in: “But Burns given all his loves, to promise faithfulness “till a’ the seas gang dry”- I ask you!”.
Yet, in art, it is the truth of the work, as such, that matters. The sincerity of the poet must be there but it is the sincerity of the voice within the poem that is the guide to our assessment-not the failings of the poet elsewhere in his life. The voice of the poet is our concern as readers. That “voice” has, of course, been shaped by the tradition of Scottish song the poet is working within. Kinsley, the distinguished Burns’ editor, indicates that many phrases of the song are found in the oral tradition. In transcibing the songs for print Burns was not as a song writer seeking originality; he was seeking to be faithful to the tradition
Bur however it came about, the song is true to love. The moment of love, is made transcendent by that love. So the moment becomes eternal. Given that sense of the eternal it makes perfect sense to say that the lastingness of that moment of deeply held love will outlast all that is material so that the seas will gang dry, the rocks will melt in the sun, the sands of life will run.
The passionate heart, truly in love can say these things. After all at the heart of the Christian vision is God as Love. And the Love of God, the Creator, is infinite ; there is no moment or the eternal is the moment.
The love expressed in the poem is true to that vision. And it matters little that the actual man living from minute to minute is not necessarily ultimately faithful to his promise.
It is the art that is faithful to what is. And for the rest of us we can see from the poem what love is and what it can be-either reinforcing and endorsing what we already know or encouraging us to aspire further.