The sentence "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
was written by Gertrude Stein
as part of the 1913 poem Sacred Emily
, which appeared in the 1922 book Geography and Plays
. In that poem, the first "Rose" is the name of a woman. Stein later used variations on the phrase in other writings, and "A rose is a rose is rose"
is probably her most famous quote, often interpreted as "things are what they are." In Stein's view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. As the quote diffused through her own writing, and the culture at large, Stein once remarked "Now listen! I’m a fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying 'is a … is a … is a …' Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years." (Four in America
Gertrude Stein's repetitive language can be said to refer to the changing quality of language in time and history. She herself said to an audience at Oxford University that the statement referred to the fact that when the Romantics used the word "rose" it had a direct relationship to an actual rose. For later periods in literature this would no longer be true. The eras following romanticism, notably the modern era, use the word rose to refer to the actual rose, yet they also imply, through the use of the word, the archetypical elements of the romantic era. It also follows the rhetoric law of thricefold repetition to emphasize a point, as can be seen in speeches dating back to the sophists.
Versions by Gertrude Stein
- "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." (Sacred Emily, Geography and Plays)
- "Do we suppose that all she knows is that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." (Operas and Plays)
- "... she would carve on the tree Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose until it went all the way around." (The World is Round)
- "A rose tree may be a rose tree may be a rosy rose tree if watered." (Alphabets and Birthdays)
- "Indeed a rose is a rose makes a pretty plate...." (Stanzas in Meditation)
- "When I said.
- A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
- And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun." (Lectures in America)
- "Civilization begins with a rose. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. It continues with blooming and it fastens clearly upon excellent examples." (As Fine as Melanctha)
- "Lifting belly can please me because it is an occupation I enjoy.
- Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
- In print on top." (Bee Time Vine)
Variations by others
- The phrase was heavily promoted by Stein's life partner Alice B. Toklas; for example, she sold plates with the sentence going all the way around.
- Robert Frost alluded to Stein's phrase in his poem "The Rose Family," from the 1929 collection West-Running Brook.
- The sentence was parodied by Ernest Hemingway after a brief time in Paris seeking editorial suggestions for his writing: "a stone is a stein is a rock is a boulder is a pebble." This also appears in his 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which there is yet another parody: "a rose is a rose is an onion." After a (perhaps bitter) falling out, the phrase becomes, "a bitch is a bitch is a bitch is a bitch."
- The phrase appears in the 1952 musical film Singin' in the Rain, in the musical number "Moses Supposes." While parodying a dialogue coach, the characters of Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown sing: "...A Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is / A rose is for Moses as potent as toeses / Couldn't be a lily or a daphi daphi dilli / It's gotta be a rose cuz it rhymes with mose!"
- Aldous Huxley paraphrased the quote in his 1954 book The Doors of Perception, writing "A rose is a rose is a rose. But these chair legs were chair legs were St. Michael and all angels." In his 1958 book, Brave New World Revisited, Huxley also referenced the quote, writing, "An apple is an apple is an apple, whereas the moon is the moon is the moon."
- In the 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie (and its 1963 film adaptation), the character of Albert Peterson refers to the saying in the song "Rosie", in which he sings, "Oh, I once heard a poem that goes / A rose is a rose is a rose / But I don't agree / Take it from me / There's one rose sweeter than any that grows!"
- Then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher stated in 1981 that "A crime is a crime is a crime" in reference to the actions of members of the IRA. The phrase has been used by other speakers as well, with the intended meaning of "no matter what you call it, criminal violence is criminal, and illegal."
- In the 1978 film, The Magic of Lassie, Robert & Richard Sherman penned the song, "A Rose Is Not A Rose".
- "Una rosa es una rosa es una rosa", the Spanish translation of Stein's verse, is the chorus of a song by the Spanish pop music group Mecano that appeared on their 1991 album, Aidalai. The pop-flamenco song tells the story of a man in love with a woman who by turns hurts and soothes him.
- Bret Easton Ellis sent up the phrase in his 1991 novel American Psycho, as narrator Patrick Bateman utters, "a Rolls is a Rolls is a Rolls" during one of his frequent materialist stream-of-consciousness tirades.
- A Rose is Still a Rose was the title of a 1998 album and song by soul singer Aretha Franklin and Lauryn Hill.
- In the liner notes to the 1999 The Magnetic Fields album 69 Love Songs, Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt credited the phrase as an inspiration for the songs "The Things We Did and Didn't Do" and "The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent."
- Idlewild, a Scottish rock band, wrote a song called Roseability, which appeared on their 2000 album '100 Broken Windows'. The song mentions Gertrude Stein at the end of the chorus - "and Gertrude Stein said that's enough" - and features large portraits of Stein in the background of the music video.
- The phrase is quoted by David Lodge in his 2001 novel, Thinks ..., in the context of a debate between the fictional characters of Arthur Messenger (a cognitive scientist) and Helen Reed (a novelist).
- James Tenney made a skillful if short setting of "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" as a canon dedicated to Philip Corner, beginning with an "a" on an upbeat pickup and continuing so that each repetition shuffles the words, eg. "a/rose is a rose/is a rose is/a rose is a/rose."
- Mordecai Richler in his ironic masterpiece "Barney's Version" ridicules the stupidity of court speeches when the prosecutor ends his opening speech with "murder is murder is murder."
- Jeanette Winterson wrote in her novel Written on the Body: "Sometimes a breast is a breast is a breast."
- Also "La rosa es una rosa es una rosa" is used in Mexican Fernando del Paso's Sonetos con lugares comunes.
- The song by Poe (Annie Decatur Danielewski) called "A rose is a rose" states "a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose said my good friend Gertrude Stein."
- The computer game Carmen Sandiego featured a villain humorously named Rosa Zarrosas-Arroz.
- Jeff Smith in the issue 13 of the Bone (comics) series, Fone Bone's love poems masterpiece begins with "a rose is a rose is a rose"
- William Burroughs wrote an interesting lingustic variant: "the word for word is word", and also used the phrase "a rat is a rat is a rat is a rat" in his novel 'Naked Lunch'.
- The Italian rock band Long Hair In Three Stages used the variant "Rain is rain is rain is..." in a song called 'Nothing' and then the original version by Stein, "A rose is a rose is a rose..." in another song called 'Rose'.
- In the late-1980s, an American public service announcement featured a message regarding identical alcohol content in three alcoholic drinks -- a beer, a mixed drink, and a shot of whiskey -- with the phrase, "A drink is a drink is a drink."
- In the "_Special_Victims_Unit_(season_1)#Episodes," seventeenth episode of the first season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the character, Detective Munch, says, "a rape is a rape is a rape," inferring that that the bizarre nature of the rape he was investigating did not change the fact that a rape had occurred and that rape is still illegal.
- In the English radio series "My Word" Frank Muir was called on to explain the origin of the phrase. His explanation: Nero and Cicero had rose gardens next to each other. The tender of Nero's garden had a mishap and destroyed a whole row of roses. So he sneaked over to Cicero's garden, stole a row from there and replaced the ones missing in his master's garden. However, they were white, while the ones in Nero's garden were pink or "rose-colored". When Nero saw this he wrote a note to the gardener: "Our roses are rose. Is a row Cicero's?" One of the most atrocious puns in history. He has also rendered it as 'Arrows sees Harrow's Ciceros' in spin-off book You Can't Have Your Kayak and Heat It.
- Julio Cortázar wrote in his novel Rayuela "A es A, a rose is a rose is a rose, April is the cruellest month, cada cosa en su lugar y un lugar para cada rosa es una rosa es una rosa..."
- Stephen King refers to "A rose is a rose is a rose..." in his popular fantasy series, The Dark Tower.
- The nutritional book You on a diet by Roizen-Oz states "In terms of weight gain, a calorie is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie" (page 53, Free Press, NY, 2006).
- Helge Schneider uses this phrase in german. (Title: "Eine Rose ist eine Rose ist", Album: "29 sehr sehr gute Erzählungen")