Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Aye...that Ae Fond Kiss

Happy Burns Day! 

Since I was writing a post for another BLOG  today, on Burns Day, it seems very relevant, to me, to write a similar post for my own blog. I've written before on Nancy's Novels about Burns poetry and songs, HERE for example, but I don't think I've yet properly included the poem Ae Fond Kiss. 

One of a pair of inherited Burns plates. 
My dad was inclined to sing the songs of Robert Burns at any time, when the mood took him, but more so at New Year and around Burns Day. His very fine tenor voice contrasted so well with my mum’s equally fine contralto, their duets being highly 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. ( I definitely take after my father in that!)

Some Burns songs are lively and humorous but most of them are slow and heartrending—love songs and laments—mirroring Burns somewhat busy and very complicated love life as he fell in and out of love with one lass or another.

Burns was one who had an ‘eye for the ladies’ during his short life (he died in 1796 aged just 37) and some would probably be justified to say he couldn't 'keep his pants' zipped- this at a time when fashion didn't include a zipper! He had many relationships which resulted in a lot of children, some legitimate during his marriage to Jean Armour, though others were not. Yet, whether the relationship was fleeting, or long lasting, his praise of his lovers in poetry and song is legendary. 
My copy owned since 1970.

There are also many poems and songs which are said to be about non-consummated, wishful thinking relationships. Ae Fond Kiss is one the most famous of this category. It's about his passionate, said to be unrequited, relationship with a married woman named Agnes Craig MacLehose—known as Nancy to her friends—though separated from her husband 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.

Having married the dissolute and mentally abusive James MacLehose when she was 17, Agnes produced four children in the four years after their marriage but had left him shortly before the birth of their fourth child. By 1787, when she met Robert Burns, she had been separated from James MacLehose for 7 years, though was no recluse. She was living in Edinburgh and reasonably well known in society when she heard of the fledgling poet Robert Burns. Burns had, in fact, been writing poetry for more than a decade by then but was becoming more renowned and feted in Edinburgh society after his first collection of poems was first published in 1786. Agnes was determined to meet this ‘talk of the town’ Robert Burns and organised, via a friend of hers, to be at a gathering which was attended by Robert Burns. (There are many sites on the internet with plentiful details of this first meeting.)
From my Burns edition -Collins publisher, ed. James Barke

When Burns met Agnes MacLehose, he was (technically) unmarried but had already seduced many women, had short term relationships and professed love for many others. Elizabeth Paton, his mother's servant at Mossgiel, gave birth to his first child (illegitimate), also named Elizabeth, in 1785. (As far as I know, this is the first documented bastard child) 

Shortly after his daughter Elizabeth's birth in May of 1785, Burns met Jean Armour, daughter of a local stonemason in nearby Mauchline. They had a complicated relationship from then on. Burns penned a statement attesting to a marriage with Jean Armour but her father tore it up- an unofficial marriage he would not acknowledge. The relationship was on a rocky footing from that point on but Jean Armour gave birth to twins in Sept. 1786 - named Robert and Jean.  

Being in and out of love continued to be the trend for Burns during the period between Sept. 1785 and 1787 and this brings us back to Agnes MacLehose. On Dec 4th 1787, he met her in Edinburgh. 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 so educated at this time was unusual. On December 7th 1787, Burns dislocated his knee during a carriage accident and could not get about as he might otherwise have done but not idle he took to penning a lot of letters.

During the ensuing three month period, Dec 1787- Feb 1788, Burns wrote some 50 letters to Agnes MacLehose but since she was still deemed to be married they chose to give themselves pseudonyms so he was Sylvander and she Clarinda. Ae Fond Kiss is about Clarinda. Consummated, or not, the relationship according to his letters and poems was a passionate one. 
Clarinda memorial -Wikimedia Commons 

You'll find a good article about them here: 

But all is not fair in love and war and Burns' relationship with Agnes MacLehose was also frustrating. It's thought that since Agnes would not allow the relationship to become physical, Burns turned some of his attention to her domestic servant Jenny Clow, who as a result bore him a son in Nov. 1788.

His love life already very complicated,  Burns reunited with Jean Armour in Feb 1788 and set up house with her, publicly testifying they were man and wife. Unsurprisingly Jean gave birth to twin girls on March 3rd, the babes having been conceived sometime the previous early summer though they only survived a short time. Over the years, Burns wrote beautiful songs and poems in praise of Jean Armour who bore him nine children, though only three survived into adulthood. 

But, again, back to Clarinda.

It 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!

I think this is one of the best recent renditions. Robyn Stapleton has the most beautiful clear voice and my dad would have LOVED to hear this version.

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.

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.

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.

This one, by Andy Stewart,  is more like the versions I grew up with and I still have a vinyl copy of it in one of my cupboards.

Once again - Happy Burns Day!

P.S. Eddie Reader is pretty good, too!,_Canongate_Kirkyard.jpg

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful poetry for sure, but it's tainted for me. I was listening to a talk just this morning on the importance of fidelity in marriage--for parents, children, and society. It kind of turns my stomach--the whole infidelity thing.


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