Robert Burns: AE FOND KISS

Immediately prior to his marriage to Jean Armour in 1788 Burns conducted, in Edinburgh, a courtly love-affair by letter with Mrs Agnes Craig McLehose (1758-1851). She was unhappily married and her relationship with Burns, the fashionable poet, was more strictly speaking platonic than physical. To Burns she was Nancy (or `Nanay') and in their passionate but discreet correspondence she was `Clarinda' to his `Sylvander'. She inspired him to pen ten love songs. Written at the end of their relationship (before Nancy sailed to Jamaica to rejoin her dissolute lawyer husband). `Ae Fond Kiss' remains one of the most poignant songs of lost love. The words, in fact, were not entirely Burn's authorship. In part they are a reworking of verses by the English minor poet and publisher Robert Dodsley (1703-1764) that he would have read in `The Charmer'. A Choice Collection of Songs, English and Scots (pub 1749). But the great poets steal whereas lesser poets borrow. The tune of the original version (SMM, Vol IV, 1793) was the air `Rory Dall's Port' by James Oswald and gleaned by Burns from Oswald's `Caledonian Pocket Companion' (the seminal collection of minstrelsy published in nine volumes between 1743 and 1759). `Ae Fond Kiss' has since been set to many tunes, both traditional and new. Nowadays it is customarily sung to John Michael Diack's tune `founded on an old Scottish air'.

As Maurice Lindsay has said, `a song so genuine in its resigned passion that it relegates the other nine songs he had written for her, full of `sensibility' and drawing-room manners to the realms of the insignificant'. In January 1792 Nancy sailed from Greenock aboard the Roselle --- ironically the ship that should have carried Burns to Jamaica five years earlier.

On 6 December 1791, in Edinburgh, Burns met Mrs McLehose for the last time. She had decided to join her now-prosperous husband in Jamaica (a disastrous decision as it turned out) and her parting gift to Burns was a lock of her hair which he had set in a ring. On his return to Dumfries, Burns sent `Ae Fond Kiss' (and two other songs) to Mrs McLehose on 27 December. Burns' song was influenced by Robert Dodsley's `The Parting Kiss', included in The Charmer (1749), which begins: `One kind kiss before we part,/Drop a tear, and bid adieu:/Tho' we sever, my fond heart,/Till we meet, shall pant for you.' A past master of the valedictory mode, Burns far surpasses Dodsley.

   Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
   Ae fareweel, and then forever!   
   Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
   Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
   Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
   While the star of hope she leaves him?
   Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me,
   Dark despair around benights me.

   I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy:
   Naething could resist my Nancy!
   But to see her was to love her,
   Love but her, and love for ever.
   Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
   Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
   Never met --- or never parted ---
   We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

   Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
   Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
   Thine be ilka joy and treasure,                                every
   Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
   Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
   Ae farewell, alas, for ever!
   Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
   Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.