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The Sunday Reading Challenge: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

Written by Rachael Norris, 12th April 2020

We are introducing this new post with the hope of injecting a bit of fun into our Sunday readings. We will be putting our readers to the test by asking them to memorise poems to recite aloud. Learning poems by heart has somewhat fallen out of fashion in the age of technology which perhaps somewhat eradicates the need for memorising favourite bits of verse when you can so easily bring them up with a word typed into Google? But it is a wonderful thing to do – you will get to know the poem in a different way, you will get to feel it in a much deeper way from the inside, and you will also have – providing you can be kind and patient with yourself – much fun along the way.

If you already have some favourite lines of verse committed to memory, please do let us know. Or if you would like to set our readers a particularly tricky challenge, please feel free to make a suggestion. Below a post from Kate Weston, trying to recite A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns.

When asked if I might have a go at this week’s Sunday Reading challenge, I was instantly reminded of my school days, when my Year 9 English teacher, a former Australian actor (best known for appearing in Prisoner Cell Block H, if anyone remembers that?), challenged the entire class to learn and recite one of Macbeth’s monologues. There was no pressure; anyone could volunteer to stand up and recite it, if they felt confident enough to, so it ended up being a lot of fun, with teenagers stumbling over (and, no doubt, mangling) Shakespeare’s famous lines. One of the best things that Mr Crossley ever taught us was to really ‘feel’ the words - to put ourselves in Macbeth’s shoes and try to imagine his inner turmoil – as a way of remembering, and whilst we didn’t always manage to get the words in the right order immediately, it did help us to get some sense of the character/person speaking them.

That same sense of capturing and conveying a feeling was important to me when selecting a poem for this challenge, so I decided to have a go at reciting a bit of Robert Burns’ ‘A Red, Red Rose’, a glorious love poem which always encourages me to think about what love is and the different ways in which we might describe or show it. Why is his love described as being like a ‘red, red rose?’, and is that a favourable comparison? How might we want someone to express their love for us?

Besides expressing a beautiful sentiment - something that feels especially useful in the times we’re living through, when our emotions are perhaps heightened and we’re in need of something uplifting - the poem has a very distinctive, rousing voice in it. Whenever I read it to myself, the voice in my head has a Scottish accent, so as an extra challenge (and bit of silliness) I thought I’d try to represent the poem as authentically as I could by attempting a Scottish accent.

Trying to recite a poem by heart in another accent is quite difficult, though I did find that the rhythm tends to carry you along. ‘A Red Red Rose’ has such a strong musical quality to it that there are many song versions of it out there (including one by a personal favourite of mine, Eva Cassidy) so I’ve included a performance of it by Scottish folk singer Eddi Reader to give you another sense of the wonderful emotion at the heart of the poem:

I hope you enjoy listening and having a go at ‘feeling the love’ yourself (attempt at Scottish accent optional!). We would love to hear some of your solo/group attempts, so do feel free to send them our way via social media.

Stay safe and take care.

Kate x

A Red, Red Rose

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
   That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
   That’s sweetly played in tune.
So 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;
I will love thee still, my dear,
   While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
   And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
   Though it were ten thousand mile.
By Robert Burns

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