English Literature
Ae Fond Kiss

Ae Fond Kiss

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The Classic Love Poem 'Ae Fond Kiss' by Robert Burns

Composed in 1791 by Robert Burns, 'Ae Fond Kiss' is a renowned love poem that showcases the Scottish poet's passion for his country and his art. The poem was written for Agnes Maclehose (1759-1841), a highly intellectual and educated woman, and was meant to be sung as a melody by its recipient. In this article, we will explore the background, meaning, literary elements, imagery, and key themes of 'Ae Fond Kiss'.

The letters exchanged between Robert Burns and Agnes Maclehose are a testament to their deep affection for one another, although history suggests that their relationship was purely platonic, also known as platonic love.

The Context of 'Ae Fond Kiss'

The context of the poem 'Ae Fond Kiss' encompasses both biographical and literary elements.

Biographical Context

Agnes Maclehose, a resident of Glasgow, was a woman ahead of her time. She had been separated from her husband since 1780 when she met Robert Burns at a tea party in Edinburgh, arranged by a mutual friend in 1787. The two instantly connected and began exchanging letters, using pseudonyms 'Sylvander' and 'Clarinda' to keep their correspondence discreet. Despite their religious beliefs and Agnes still being legally married, their letters do not indicate a romantic relationship, but rather a strong bond of love. Robert Burns, however, desired for their relationship to evolve into something more than just friendship, as expressed in a letter written to Agnes on December 16th, 1787. In response, Agnes rebuked Burns for his romantic advances, reminding him that it was improper to write to a married woman in such a way.

In 1788, Robert Burns married his former lover, Jean Armour (1765-1834), who had already given birth to twins out of wedlock twice. This marriage, along with the birth of his child with Agnes' maid in the same year, affected his relationship with Agnes. In 1792, Agnes left for the West Indies to reunite with her estranged husband, only to discover that he had another family. She returned to Scotland, and her relationship with Burns had become distant. In 1791, Burns learned of Agnes' plans to leave and, knowing they would never meet again, sent her 'Ae Fond Kiss' as a farewell gift. In 1831, Agnes reflected on their parting in her diary, writing, "This day I can never forget. Parted with Burns, in the year 1791, never more to meet in this world. Oh, may we meet in Heaven!"

Literary Context

The first two lines of 'Ae Fond Kiss' were inspired by a verse from 'The Parting Kiss' (1749) by Robert Dodsley, an English poet and publisher who was not as well-known as Burns himself.

Throughout her life, Agnes Maclehose kept a tight grip over the letters she wrote to Robert Burns, but after his death, many of his letters to her were published in 'Letters to Clarinda &c.' (1802). After Agnes' passing, her grandson published 'The Correspondence Between Burns and Clarinda' (1843), which included letters written by both Burns and Agnes. The 66th letter in the collection was the one Burns wrote upon discovering Agnes' departure, and it contained three 'songs,' with 'Ae Fond Kiss' being the first. The letter concluded with the words, "Adieu. Adieu. SYLVANDER."

Agnes Maclehose was the muse behind ten of Robert Burns' love poems, including 'Sylvander to Clarinda' (1787), where Burns expressed his desire for more than just friendship.

"Love, from Clarinda's heavenly eyes,Transfixed his bosom through and through;But still in friendship's guarded guise,For more the demon feared to do."

In the 1788 song "Clarinda, Mistress of my Soul," Robert Burns conveys the impact that even a brief separation from his love Agnes had on him:"To what dark cave of frozen nightShall poor Sylvander hie;Depriv'd of thee, his life and light,The sun of all his joy?"Similar to his famous song "Auld Lang Syne," "Ae Fond Kiss" also explores the theme of lost love. However, unlike "Auld Lang Syne," it is not entirely written in Scots; instead, it incorporates some English words as well. The composition of "Ae Fond Kiss" follows the traditional format of Scottish folk music, as Burns intended it to be sung to the tune of "Rory Dall's Port." This tune, originally written for the harp and believed to have Irish origins, was later adopted by Scottish musicians.

Exploring the Evolution of "Ae Fond Kiss" by Robert Burns

Despite its traditional reputation, "Ae Fond Kiss" by Robert Burns has undergone a series of transformations since its initial composition. Originally set to a traditional melody, the song has since been adapted and recorded by numerous artists, each giving it their own interpretation.

Credited with composing many traditional Gaelic folk tunes, blind Scottish harpist Rory Dall (born in 1656) is believed to be the original composer of "Ae Fond Kiss." "Port" is the Gaelic term for a tune, and "Dall" was the harpist's nickname, meaning "blind" in Scottish Gaelic. This adds another layer of depth and meaning to the song's already poignant lyrics.

Following an AABBCC rhyme scheme, each of the song's stanzas consists of eight lines and four rhyming couplets. This structure, known for its musicality, is likely a deliberate choice by Burns. By maintaining consistency in the rhyme and meter, he enhances the song's emotive impact.

The speaker in the song pleads for a final kiss from his love before they part ways forever. The conflicting emotions of bittersweet memories and a sense of despair at the loss of future experiences are palpable throughout the poem. The speaker also expresses that no one could resist falling for Nancy's charms, reflecting their intense love and questioning if their heartbreak is a testament to its depth.

In the final stanza, the speaker bids farewell to Nancy, who he refers to as the most beautiful woman he has ever loved. He offers his well-wishes for her future but also begs for one last kiss, lamenting the fact that this is their final goodbye. As he concludes, he acknowledges that he will always remember her through his tears and cherish their past memories, while mourning the loss of the future they could have had.

The use of trochaic tetrameter, with its regular rhythm, lends itself well to being set to music. Additionally, the inclusion of feminine endings in each line adds to the sense of fading away, perfectly fitting for a final farewell.

Rhyming couplets also play a significant role in the song, serving both a musical and thematic purpose. The repetition of words and phrases, known as anaphora, further emphasizes the speaker's deep emotions and extends the goodbye. For instance, lines 1 and 2 both begin with "Ae," highlighting the importance of that one last kiss before parting. The use of caesuras in lines 1 and 2, marked by the commas before "and," heightens the impact of the realization that this final farewell kiss is truly their last.

Overall, "Ae Fond Kiss" is a powerful example of Burns' skill in capturing the complexities of love and parting in his poetry. Its structure and use of poetic devices only enhance the impactful message of lost love.

The Significance of Anaphora and Other Linguistic Devices in "Ae Fond Kiss"

The use of anaphora in "Ae Fond Kiss" creates a regular rhythm that echoes throughout the poem. This parallel syntax is seen in lines 17 and 18, where the repetition of grammatical structures such as "thou first and fairest" and "thou best and dearest" not only assists in setting the poem to music but also amplifies the speaker's ideas and emphasizes his deep affection for the subject through superlatives.

In the third stanza, the small change from "and then forever" to "alas, forever!" in the repetition of lines one and two reveals the profound impact of their final goodbye on the speaker.

The Power of Repetition in Lines 5-8

The repetition of "him" and "me" at the end of two sets of rhyming couplets in lines five to eight highlights the theme of hope and hopelessness. This emphasizes the contrast between the speaker and other men in relationships, who have hope for a bright future, while the speaker lacks this sense of optimism.

Aside from anaphora, the use of epistrophe, repeating the ending words of two or more sentences or phrases, is also employed to add emphasis to certain ideas in the poem.

Utilizing End-Stopped Lines

The poem's use of full stops, question marks, and exclamation marks at the end of grammatical sentences results in end-stopped lines. Each rhyming couplet contains a complete grammatical sentence, with the exception of the second stanza, where sentences span over two couplets.

The use of end-stopped lines in rhyming couplets not only makes it easier to adapt the poem into a song but also brings a sense of tranquility to the speaker's thoughts, reflecting the finality and tenderness of their farewell.

The Language Devices of "Ae Fond Kiss"

The speaker in "Ae Fond Kiss" uses first-person speech, directly addressing the subject (identified as "Nancy" in the poem). This personal choice of language adds to the intimacy of the poem, originally written as a private letter from Robert Burns to Agnes Maclehose.

A Poignant Love Letter: The Structure and Emotions of Robert Burns' 'Ae Fond Kiss'

Written in 1791, 'Ae Fond Kiss' is a tender love poem by the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. It is a heartfelt expression of his emotions for Agnes Maclehose (also known as 'Nancy' in the poem), a woman he had a platonic love for.

The poem follows a regular structure of three stanzas with eight lines each. The use of rhyming couplets and trochaic tetrameter adds a musical quality to the poem, which was meant to be sung with the traditional Scottish tune, 'Rory Dall's Port'.

What sets 'Ae Fond Kiss' apart from Burns' other works is the use of Agnes' private pet name, 'Nancy', instead of her public pen name, 'Clarinda'. This personal touch showcases the depth of their relationship.

The theme of separation and loss is evident in the poem as Burns bids farewell to Agnes, who was leaving Scotland in 1792 to reunite with her estranged husband in the West Indies. The tone throughout is one of quiet grief, with the speaker expressing his emotions in a controlled manner, highlighted by the regular rhythm, end-stopped lines, and consistent rhyming pattern.

The imagery of light and darkness is used to emphasize the little happiness the speaker has left as he says goodbye to his beloved. In lines nine to 12, he compliments Agnes' beauty, implying that even just a glimpse of her would make anyone fall in love. The idea of eternity is also present, but with a sense of finality as seen in the repetition of 'and then forever' in the first two lines and 'alas, forever!' in the third stanza.

The poem also showcases the deep grief and longing of the speaker as he mentions honoring Agnes' memory with 'heart-wrung tears' and 'groans'. He also recalls their happy memories together with a 'sigh', highlighting the depth of his sorrow.

Background and Legacy

'Ae Fond Kiss' was written by Burns as a farewell gift for Agnes before her departure to the West Indies. Their correspondence of letters started in 1787 and continued until Burns' marriage to his former lover, Jean Armour, in 1788. Despite their brief time together, the poem remains a testament to the strong feelings Burns had for Agnes.

With its beautiful language, heartfelt emotions, and timeless theme, 'Ae Fond Kiss' has been recorded by various artists and remains a beloved love song and a classic piece of literature. It is a testament to Burns' talent as a writer and a musician, and a testament to the enduring power of love and heartbreak.

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