Analytical Summary –
Robert Burns’ ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ is a poem written for a letter directed towards a lover who is now leaving forever. Burns’ songful work here is very typically formed, as such to fit an old Scottish folk song, and appears drenched in woe and pain, an emphasis on the heartache such potent love will eventually cause.
Themes – The Price of Passionate Love
One is often accustomed to viewing love in the light of the initial flash and dazzle, with wine and splendour and romps, but one is so infrequently reminded of the backend of this particular pursuit. This poem, a letter, screams of the intense emotional effect such proper love can deal out. We see how the speaker cannot fathom a life ahead void of this love and subsequently we are made to ponder the reality of whether it is better to fair the voyage of incredible happiness and infatuation knowing that one will soon reach the port of sorrow.
However, we are then made to realise that the speaker, Burns, does not blame himself for falling into this trap. He clearly states that ‘Naething could resist my Nancy’, implying that, even if he were aware of the fatefully miserable terminus, he could not fight the intense beauty and wonder within her. However, much like the speaker’s mind, we see how such feelings and thoughts quickly volley from one side to the other, for only a few lines later we see how he ponders what would have happened had they never met, eventually finding himself at the conclusion that they would have avoided such pain.
From all of this, we can collect and say that love is very much a sacrifice, even hedonistic. Burns argues with himself that it may have been better to have never dipped into the waters of love but also, at the very same time, cannot imagine a future without her. We see this relationship between the past, present, and future quite plainly.
Themes- Love in the past, present, and future.
Quite often, we see how relationships are built on memories and hopes. Here, we see a man who now relies upon these memories as the future, to him, is opaque. He cannot fathom the forms of the days to come as he has lost his anchor and point of reference. We also see the speaker ponder alternate histories, implying that it may be more beneficial to look upon a past bare of love and romance if it means that one can still look to the future.
We also gain a sense that this obsession and therefore this emotional pain has clouded the present. It is this intense focus on the past that raises the notion that love will always end up being a painful memory to those stung by it’s thrall. Furthermore, repeated twice throughout the poem is the word ‘forever’. This idea of infinity warps the idea of the future into seemingly endless boundaries, both exaggerating the fact that our speaker will never again find such passion whilst also highlighting the power of such love.
The future is indefinite, of course, but to confidently claim that such a loss will remain for eternity is to be incredibly pessimist. Though it may be realistic, as well, it speaks volumes about the speaker’s mindset and perception of time. Such a loss is like that of death, permanent, and subsequently we are made to realise the effect this has on the speaker, akin to such fatal loss, and also the mind that our speaker is plagued by, one that deals only in absolutes.
Symbols – Stars
Humans have, for time immemorial, looked up at the canvas of night time stars and wondered all sorts of fancy things. Whether it be the forming of myths and tales to the aiding of navigation, stars are a curiously permanent fixation of the human race. To be able to see such distant objects quite easily obviously demands some level of fascination, even in those completely ignorant to what stars really are. In this particular poem, we see how the star symbolises a vague goal, a lantern upon the foggy fens let’s say.
The star is a symbol for achievement and development, it is something many view as the final goal of humanity itself. When Icarus ascended to the sun and thus to the stars, he may have been punished, but he still played into that deep seated and well rooted hobby of man to strive. Here, we see that these stars have left the speaker, his black night sky lost of a ‘cheerfu’ twinkle’ that ‘lights’ him. We now have an image of a pitch black, infinitely dark nightscape. The wonder and beauty of these twinkling gems has vanished and our speaker has nothing to guide him, motivate him, or amuse him.
Devices –Rhyme Scheme
The bounce of the poem feels incredibly song-like, with a surprisingly simple rhyming couplet AABBCCDD format. This is mainly due to the fact that it conforms to a Scottish folk song, which must obviously be musical to an extent. However, looking beyond the obvious facts, one can deduce many things about the fact that such a poem adopts this scheme. Couplets, at their most basic, join two things together in the mind. We see the cycle and see the pattern and we focus upon that.
Thinking about the concept of two things joining in some manner, we see that the scheme mirrors the content of the poem. Two people are joined, though obviously now separated, much like the couplets. Perhaps, however, the lack of a break in the poem, a deviation from the scheme, represents that the speaker, in his own mind, is still joined with Nancy. We understand that he cannot fathom a life without her, so it is only expected that his letter parades as if they are still connected. Furthermore, many of the couplets, if observed independent of the line they end, fit with one another.
We see that ‘love her’ is coupled with ‘forever’, ‘fancy’ is paired with ‘Nancy’, and ‘sever’ joins ‘forever’. This implies that the fancy he experiences will always be with Nancy, and the severance of their relationship will indeed last forever.
Devices- Epistrophe .
Epistrophes are most often used for emphasis, especially in speech making. They effectively beat the same drum over and over again to ensconce the idea presented within the mind of the reader or listener by ending multiple phrases with the same word. In the case of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, we see this very idea used to the same end but perhaps more in the angle of illustrating the speaker’s obsessive mind. We firstly see that the most obvious idea is that the only present examples seem to cover the two parties with ‘thee’ and ‘her’ to represent Nancy and ‘him’ and ‘me’ to represent the speaker.
Firstly, by merely existing as such, we can debate that it re-emphasises the idea of a bond, with Burns still seeing the unity remain despite it, in reality, being broken. Furthermore, one could also argue that the opposite is in effect. By constantly reiterating this ‘me’ and ‘thee’, we are forced to see the difference, like a speaker using the words ‘us’ and ‘them’ to reiterate the difference and concentrate on the divide.
To continue, one can also argue that the persistent repetition forms a sense of routine and inevitability, much like the rhyme scheme in a sense, and mimics that sense of infinity in the speaker, a span of forever to never love again.
The poem begins with the speaker bidding his lover farewell and at the same time mourning her departure. 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, as he became obsessed with her and couldn’t resist being around her. Burns ends the poem with the speaker talking through all the positive things his lover brought to him, from peace to pleasure.
He still hasn’t come to terms with the loss by the end, instead. Burns’ poem explores the pain of parting and lost love. The woman is believed to be Agnes Macelhose, married but separated from her husband, so the relationship was kept secret. In 1791, Agnes, referred to as Nancy in the poem, left Scotland to travel to Jamaica to attempt a reconciliation with her husband.