More about this song
Juliet Linden Bicket
These lyrics, about the well known River Doon in Ayrshire, use the images of rose and thorn (common to medieval court poetry and remaining in popular song) as indicators of a love scorned or rejected.
The narrator is pained by the beautiful birdsong he hears along the banks of the river, comparing this to the days 'when my fause luve was true' - when he too sang of love - and before his false lover 'left the thorn wi' me'.
In a letter of 11 March 1791 to Alexander Cunningham, Burns indicates that he means this to be part of Johnson's Musical Museum, and that it is set to the tune of a Strathspey reel, 'called in Cummin's Collect of Strathspeys, "Ballendalloch's reel," and in other Collections... by the name of Camdelmore".'