Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns

Ae Fond Kiss’ by Robert Burns is a three stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. Each of these octaves is composed of couplets, or two line pairs. The rhymes are very consistent, the only point at which the rhyme changes is between lines three and four of the second stanza. The end sounds, “her” and “forever” are half, or slant, rather than full, rhymes. Burns also created a very structured pattern for the meter. It conforms to iambic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed.  

Burns’ poetry is immediately recognizable due to his choice to write in a Scottish dialect. This means that there is often some interpreting of phrases that must occur before a piece can be fully understood. The poem is commonly referred to as a “song.” Burns intended for it to be set to music, specifically Rory Dalls’ Port. To this day it is his most recorded love lyric.

From the start it is clear that the speaker is addressing someone important to him, a lover. She is the intended listener of the poem. While ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ should be considered a love poem, it is not an upbeat one. It was written about and sent to an ex-mistress of the poet. Her name was Agnes McLehose and he maintained a fairly committed relationship with her for seven years before she returned to living with her husband and moved to Jamaica. Burns wrote this piece for her and sent it to her home. The two had once thought that they would be free to marry after the death of her husband, but Burns died first.

 

Summary of Ae Fond Kiss

Ae Fond Kiss’ by Robert Burns tells of the unfortunate parting of two lovers, and a speaker’s depression over the many parts of his life he is losing.

The poem begins with the speaker bidding his lover farewell and at the same time mourning her departure. He has a “Dark despair”inside of him that cannot be touched by light. He does not regret this relationship, even though sometimes he is troubled over it. Any action he took with this person was not his fault, he couldn’t resist her. 

Burns concludes the poem with the speaker talking through all the positive things his lover brought to him, from peace to pleasure. He has not come to terms with the loss by the end, instead the first lines of the poem are repeated to create a circular lyric. 

 

Analysis of Ae Fond Kiss

Stanza One

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. 

In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by utilizing the line that later become the  title, “Ae fond kiss.” This is one of the moments where a little interpretation of the dialect is helpful. In this context “Ae” simple means “a” or “only one.” The speaker is telling his listener that now is the time for them to part. They shared one final “fond” and loving kiss and “sever” their connection. It is interesting to note that this poem, in a way, stands in for that kiss. It was sent from Burns to his ex-lover after she returned to her husband. 

The next two lines tell the listener what has been, and will be, going on inside the speaker’s heart. He is conflicted over the end of the relationship, and perhaps conflict about its existence at all. He speaks to the “Warring” going on within him and the “groans” he emits as he worries. 

The speaker continues on state that he is wrung out with grief. There is a “Dark despair” that follows him everywhere and is working to take him over. There is no “cheerfu’ twinkle” of hope to raise his spirits. Everything they had together is over. 

There is an interesting contrast in these last lines between the darkness within the speaker and the light he knows could exist. This might be part of his general feelings of conflict. He knows he could be happier, but is plagued by the despair. 

 

Stanza Two 

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 forever. 

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. 

The second stanza makes great use of repetition. Burns begins by telling the listener that whatever has happened between them, and whatever is going on inside his heart is not his fault. He will “ne’er blame” his own passion. There is no way to “Resist” the listener when she is there. The next lines tell of how simple it was to love this person and remain in love with her. Once he saw her, it was love, and “love forever.” 

The speaker uses parallel syntax in the next lines with the phrase “Had we never lov’d sae…”. He is setting up a possible alternate reality in which the two never met one another and never loved. In the first instance the phrase ends with “kindly.” They might not have had their “kind” love or, as the second line describes, “blind” love. In another world, they might have “Never met” or “never parted.” In both of these other realities they would not have ended up with broken hearts. 

 

Stanza Three 

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest! 

Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest! 

Thine be ilka joy and treasure, 

Peace. enjoyment, love, and pleasure! 

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever; 

Ae fareweel, alas, forever! 

Deep in heart-wrung tears   I’ll pledge thee, 

Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee! 

There is another instance of parallel syntax at the beginning of the final stanza. He bids his love farewell, alternatively calling her “fairest” and the “dearest.” It is clear that this person was everything to the speaker, He confirms this in line three by stating that she is both “joy and treasure.” She is made out of all the good in his life and brought to him, “Peace, enjoyment, love and pleasure!” With knowledge of the historical context in which this piece was written, one can’t help but feel sorry for Burns who obviously treasured this relationship. It does not seem like he was ready to “sever” their ties at all. 

In the final four lines he repeats the beginning of the poem. He tells the listener that they’ve shared their final kiss. He also reiterates that all these emotions are coming from “Deep in heart-wrung tears.” The tears are devoted to this person and represent everything they once had and have now lost. 

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