Ye hink ah’m like a reid, reid whit?
You dinna hae a scoob!
And whit dae you ken aboot melodie?
Dae ye hink ah’m a tube?
And whit’s aw this aboot seas gaun dry
When we’re hauf droont in your slavers?
It’s your brain must be meltit, pal,
Comin oot wi aw this havers.
And sauns o life? It’s ower the tap.
Ye’ll dae yirsel a mischief.
Ten thoosand mile? Aye, on ye go.
Fare thee weel… richt ower the first cliff.
Ye’re aff? Hing on, ah’ll chum ye doon
This road a bit, see jist whaur it goes.
Naw, wait the noo, ma glaikit doo –
Did ye no ken ye had me at ‘rose’?
About this poem
This poem was written as part of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Addressing the Bard project in 2009. Twelve contemporary poets were asked to select a poem by Robert Burns and respond to it. Matthew Fitt chose ‘A Red Red Rose‘.
Matthew Fitt comments:
Ye cannae appreciate the poetry o Robert Burns until ye believe in his language. Ye dinnae hae tae be fluent in it or talk it aw the time but ye dae hae tae ken twa things: thing wan – it’s cawed Scots; thing twa – it’s no cawed ‘slang’. Onybody that reckons Burns’s language is ‘slang’ and no Scots needs tae awa and dook their heid in the River Doon.
I waled ‘A red red Rose’ because I feel Burns wantit this poem (it’s a sang as weel) tae hae mair tae it than jist ‘I love ye, I think ye’re great, I’ll love ye forever and ever, sae I wull.’
Burns wrote a guid wheen love poems but I’ve aye been intrigued by the speaker in this yin. Some fowk claim the speaker is Burns himsel but it could easy be ony laddie, lassie, man or wumman tellin anither person (or thing) they love them. I’ve aften thocht this speaker is a mair complex character than meets the ee.
He/she comes oot wi bonnie stottin big-hertit sentiments that wid mak maist folk weak at the hurdies. ‘Til aw the seas gang dry’, they say. Impressive stuff because seas dinnae gang dry owernicht. Then the speaker says, ‘I’ll love ye tae the rocks melt wi the sun’, an even langer time. And then he/she says their love’s gonnae last ‘while the sands o life shall run’ – basically until awbody on the planet’s deid.
Then it’s no hoo lang but hoo faur: no jist roond the corner or tae the chipper and back but ten thoosand miles which if ye did that walkin fae George Square in Glesga ye wid probably end up at the Sydney Opera Hoose in Australia. It micht weel be the speaker’s love is that muckle that they hae tae say muckle things tae match. (There’s a name for that: it’s cawed ‘hyperbole’.)
But although the speaker is giein it plenty aboot roses and seas dryin oot, I suspect it could be the ither person is jist no interested. Mibbe the listener doesnae want tae ken, thinks the speaker is a bit hackit and mingin and wid raither run ten thoosand miles in the ither direction. Or mibbe the listener is secretly pure lappin up aw the beautiful similes and gallus hyperbole and is jist pretendin no tae be impressed hopin the speaker will come up wi mair statements o their love, each yin mair muckle and amazin than the last.
Write a monologue fae the view-point o a person like the speaker in ‘A red red Rose’. Ye could hae some fun as they exaggerate hoo great their love is, or mibbe they’re no awfie guid at expressin their love and get teased a little (or a lot) by the ither person. Ye could write fae the ither person’s point o view as weel like in the poem I’ve written here. Or ye could hae baith voices gaun at it thegither in a short story or a playscript.
Whitever ye dae, try writin in Scots. There’s nae better wey tae understand the poetry and sangs o Robert Burns than tae read and write in his and your ain tongue.