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Poem Comparison (Burns And Rossetti)

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Comparison of Robert Burns' "A Red, Red Rose" and Christina Rosetti's "A Birthday"

Though the subject of both Robert Burns' "A Red, Red Rose" and Christina Rosetti's "A Birthday" is love, the tone, diction, and form of each underline the different themes. The theme of the Burns poem is the beautiful ardency of the lover saying farewell to his love, while the Rosetti poem focuses on the joyous feelings of lovers being reunited. Both poems convey love as an emotion that transcends the immediate world of feeling; thus, references are made by the speakers to eternity, and vivid imagery is employed to describe extraordinary settings.

Although both poems focus on love, the tone in the Burns poem is tragic, while "A Birthday" conveys celebratory feelings. The speaker of "A Red, Red Rose" shows reverence for his lover, comparing her to "a red, red rose / that's newly sprung in June" and a "melodie / that's sweetly play'd in tune". The use of these comparisons adds a delicate innocence to his "bonie lass". The comparison to a red rose, an ingredient of the common folksong, is an approapriate way for Burns to characterize this young woman because the image and beauty of the rose is simple and understood universally. The way in which the speaker addresses his love also reflects tenderness and a sense of ownership: "my only love", "my dear", and "my bonie lass". The references made to the rose, the seas, the rocks, the sun and "the sands o' life" give the poem a basis in the natural world. This is fitting, for love is a natural human emotion that occurs without the permission or plan of man. The change of tense in the second stanza from the present to the future marks a change in sentiment as well. It is at this point that the speaker begins to make promises of his everlasting love, thus reverting to a tragic mood. The phrases "till a' the seas gang dry" and "the rocks melt wi' the sun" show the desperation of the speaker convey his dedication to his love. Burns' spelling of certain words such as "gang" and "weel" and his archaic use of "so fair art thou" detaches the poem from the present. The simplicity and inherent lyricism of the poem harks back to the days of the troubadours, where such declarations of love would be sung to lovers perched in balconies above. Rossetti's "A Birthday", on the other hand, features much more sophisticated imagery and varied diction. Descriptions of the heart as being "a singing bird", "an apple-tree", "a rainbow shell", all of which are teeming with life, convey a lively and elated tone from the opening of the poem. Rossetti uses alliteration of soft sounds such as "boughs are bent", "gold and silver grapes" and "leaves of silver fluers-de-lys" to create euphony. As opposed to Burns use of symbolic, yet simple diction, Rossetti employs colourful words such as "halcyon", "dais", "vair", and "pomegranates" to add a sense of exoticism. The diction implies awe at the effect of love on an individual. In both poems, the diction enforces the tone by creating an atmosphere appropriate for the tragic feelings of the speaker in "A Red, Red Rose" and the joyous feelings of the speaker in "A Birthday".

Aside from the clever use of diction, the form of each poem reflects the sentiments expressed. "A Red, Red Rose" is in an irregular metre, predominantly composed of iambic feet that alternate between tetrameter and trimeter. As a result of the alternating meter, the second and fourth line of each of the four stanzas are end-stopped lines. The rhyme scheme is a simple pattern of ABCB, one which makes the poem easily adaptable to song. Repetition of phrases and even whole lines such as "And I will love thee still, my dear" shows the gradual build to the climax of the poem in the third stanza. In contrast, the Rossetti poem uses repetition of "my love is come to me" as a means of unifying the two stanzas. The overall form of "A Birthday" also differs in that it is entirely in iambic tetrameter and arranged into two stanzas of eight lines each. The rhyme scheme is essentially ABCB, though the pattern occurs twice within each stanza. This form allows Rossetti to present a balanced series of similes in the first stanza, likening her heart to such beautiful things as "a rainbow shell / that paddles in a halcyon sea", and then declaring that her heart is "gladder than all these." By describing the emotions before explaining why they should be so, Rossetti puts emphasis on the reason for the happiness: "because my love is come to me." The second stanza of this poem is full of imagery of the preparations to be made for the reception of her love. Details such as "a dais of silk and down", "vair and purple dyes", and "peacocks with a hundred eyes" suggest that the surroundings will decorated with sensuous materials to reflect the speaker's pleasure at the thought of her love. This description could be applied literally to a wedding, or a similarly joyous reunion of two separated lovers; however, it can also be a metaphor for the heavenly conditions



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