Form and Structure
The poem consists of 24 lines, with three-stanzas, each measuring eight lines each (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 are between lines three and four of the second stanza. Burns created a very structured pattern for the meter. It conforms to iambic tetrameter. The first lines of the poem are also repeated to create a circular lyric.
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.