Ae Fond Kiss


This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Today, I can’t pass up the opportunity to do something about the best known Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Burns Day is a celebration of his birth on 25th January, 1759. (I’ve written about his poetry many times but hopefully I haven’t covered the poem below on this ‘Wranglers’ blog.)

25th January, Burns Day, isn’t a national holiday but it’s a day that’s celebrated by many, mostly in the form of a Burns Supper (on or around the 25th Jan) where the fare is Haggis, Neeps n’ Tatties, washed down with a wee dram of whisky. I have to say that Burns Suppers still tend to include haggis and whiskey these days but haute cuisine sometimes makes the basic ingredients seem unrecognisable.

Alexander Nasymth’s portrait. National Gallery of Scotland – Wikimedia Commons

Generally, the Burns Supper also includes some renditions of Robert Burns poems and sometimes his songs. I’m not a poet, and don’t ever aspire to be one, but I appreciate many poets who have left a legacy of great writing and I count Robert Burns in that number.

My dad loved to sing the songs of Robert Burns any time, but especially so around Burns Day. He had a very fine tenor voice which contrasted with my mum’s equally fine contralto and their duets were popular during family and friends gatherings. They each had their Burns’ favourites but it was Mum who remembered all of the words whereas Dad would hum till he got back on track. Some of Burns songs are quite lively but most of them are slow and heartrending—love songs and laments—which mirrored Burns somewhat busy love life.

Burns was one who had an ‘eye for the ladies’ during his short life (he died in 1796 aged just 37). He had many relationships which resulted in a lot of children, some legitimate and others not. Yet whether the relationship was fleeting, or long lasting, his praise of his lovers in poetry and song is legendary. There are also many poems and songs which are said to be about non-consummated, wishful thinking relationships.

One of a pair of ‘Burns’ plates inherited via my mum but probably made in the early 1900s.

Ae Fond Kiss is about his passionate, said to be unrequited relationship with a married woman named Agnes Craig MacLehose—known as Nancy to her friends—though she had been separated from her husband for seven years by the time of their meeting.  Her life story is worth reading but in relation to Burns she met him in Dec 1787, when she was 29, he 28. She was living in Edinburgh and was reasonably well known in society when she heard of the fledgling poet, Robert Burns. Burns had actually been writing poetry for more than a decade but was becoming more renowned after his first collection of poems was first published in 1786. Agnes determined to meet this ‘talk of the town’ Robert Burns.

Clarinda’s grave marker in Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh. – Wikimedia Commons

As well as having physical attributes that Burns was drawn to, ‘a comely bosom and big round eyes’, he also deeply admired that she was well-informed, could maintain a fine conversation and was said to also be skilled in penning poetry.

For a woman to be well educated at this time was unusual. During a three month period, 1787-1788, Burns wrote 50 letters to the woman, but since she was married, they chose to give themselves pseudonyms so he was Sylvander and she Clarinda.

You’ll find lots of those letters here:

Though, in typical Burns form, during the period of the letter writing of Dec 1788- Feb 1789 Burns was also in a complicated relationship with Jean Armour, the woman who became his wife and whom he ‘set up house with’ in Feb 1788.  I’ve got more about that event on my own BLOG today, and there’s a mention of Jenny Clow the domestic servant of Agnes MacLehose who gave birth to Burns’s illegitimate son later in 1788!

But back to Ae Fond KissIt got to me, every time, when my dad sang Ae Fond Kiss. At one particular point, his glance would seek me out wherever I was in the room and it’s a fatherly gesture I’ll never forget. If you read the lyrics below, you’ll guess at which point that was!


Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!

Ae farewell, 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.

From my Burns edition

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 lo’vd sae kindly,

Had we never lo’vd sae blindly,

Never met—or never parted—

We had ne’er been broken hearted.

Burns Cottage , Ayrshire

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 farewell, alas, for ever!

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

Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.

Cheers! Or as they say with a wee dram in hand- Slainte Mhor! (apologies – I can’t do the accents with my present keyboard )

Nancy Jardine writes: Historical Romantic Adventures; Contemporary Mysteries and Time Travel Historical Adventure for early Teens. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Scottish Association of Writers.

You can find her at these places:

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17 thoughts on “Ae Fond Kiss

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the beautiful singer and song. What a character Burns must have been, talented and charismatic. Thanks for the history of that famous poet. Have to look up some of your “goodies” that go with the day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read little of Burns’ poetry, but I love what I’ve read, especially “Tam O’Shanter,” the Cutty-sark and valiant Maggie. Thanks for your post, and happy birthday to Robert Burns.


    1. Good choice of poem, Kathy. Aged 16, I learned the whole of ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ as prep for my “O” Grade school English exam (Ordinary Grade as opposed to H for Higher at 17yrs). I also had to study and quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and had to read and comment on lots of novels and essays. Tough exams back in Scotland in 1968! I can still recite bits of T o S. This site advertises an exhibition I’d love to go to when I’ve got time to make a 300 mile round trip.


  3. I followed the words as I listened to the singer. I actually felt tears wetting skin beneath my eyes — and that doesn’t happen often (well, maybe a little bit). I’ve always felt that a romantic novel need not follow formula and everybody live happily ever after, and this Burn’s song proves it. When I was a reporter in Duplin County in North Carolina, I covered a Burns Day banquet they do every year on his birthday. As you can surmise, Duplin County was settled by Scottish settlers back in the 18th century.


    1. Yes, Mike. Those Scottish settlers got everywhere…and took their Burns Day with them. Some say he’s a bit mournful but there’s a lot to like about his work.


  4. My husband Greg and I have attended a few Burns Suppers; in fact, Greg’s best friend used to host them annually until his kids got more involved with after school activities. It was a lively affair, with poetry readings and songs. In fact, at our wedding, we had this friend read, “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” — Greg had recited that to me the year previous during a much smaller Burns Supper (just two couples, including us 🙂 ) Thank you for sharing this post, Nancy — it brought back fond memories!


    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Gayle. Yes, ‘My Love is like a red, red, rose’ is quite a famous one but doesn’t have the same pathos as ‘Ae Fond Kiss’.


  5. You hit two of my favorites, poetry/music and Burns. Thank you for adding your memories, it makes the poem even more beautiful. Doris


    1. It’s a case of ‘the ties that bind’, Doris. Memories like my above one are more poignant as I get older and I’m sure most people have associations like that. Particular songs bring back memories of special people.


  6. I am not much on poetry, but he certainly was a memorable person. Thanks for sharing this. You have some interesting holidays there.


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