In “John Anderson, My Jo,” by Robert Burns, the speaker is a woman who expresses her love towards her beloved “jo.” This poem takes on an unconventional approach when compared to the other love poems we have analyzed. Instead of the man pursuing the woman, the woman pursues the man.
The speaker talks about both her love and her past with her “jo.” When the speaker says: ” . . . John, / When we were first acquent” (ll. 1-2), she shares the name of her beloved “John” and that she remembers when they were first acquainted. Her memories of being friends with “John” are clear as day.
To the speaker, “John” is her single joy. She extols the man’s beauty. As if everything about him is perfect. Her feelings towards the man are ardent. “Your locks were like the raven, / Your bonie brow was brent; / But now your brow is beld, John, / Your locks are like the snow; / But blessings on your frosty pow, / John Anderson, my jo” (ll. 3-8). Here, the speaker identifies everything beautiful about her “jo.”
Comparing this poem to “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell. We can see that the roles of the lover are switched. In “To His Coy Mistress” when the speaker says: “An hundred years should go to praise / Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze; / Two hundred to adore each breast, / But thirty thousand to the rest; / An age at least to every part, / And the last age should show your heart” (ll. 13-18). The speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” is a man. He also extols his beloved, but in an exaggerated way. When the speaker says: “But thirty thousand to the rest” (l. 16), he exaggerates the amount of time he would love the parts of the “Coy Mistresses” body. The discrepancy between “John Anderson, My Jo,” by Robert Burns and “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell is the role of the lovers being switched. Also the woman in “John Anderson, My Jo” speaks more from the heart. She is equal in age to her “jo.”
The tone of “John Anderson, My Jo” comes off as nostalgic. The speaker prompts the reader by making us picture her past with her beloved. “We clamb the hill thegither” (l. 10). The speaker reminisces on the time she and her “jo” climbed the hill together. Her memories do not arouse feelings of sadness within me. Rather I feel the joy behind the speaker’s words. “And hand in hand we’ll go, / And sleep thegither at the foot” (ll. 14-15). The poem embellishes the happiness one should feel when around those you admire.
This poem has a rhyme scheme, but putting it together is difficult. I think it has an alternate rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD.
This poem explicates that women are capable of showing their feelings better than men. Men can sometimes exaggerate their feelings. Which we observed within “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell. This poem was helpful because it was from the perspective of how a woman values the concept of eternal love.
Before reading this poem I thought only about the man’s perspective on love. Is the woman treating the man unfairly? I never thought about how the woman felt. I concluded that within the love poems we read before this poem, that the men were being treated unfairly by the women. Not the other way around.