Robert Burns: Jamaica’s loss

Scotland’s most famous poet wasn’t much of a success by the age of 26.  He’d farmed, but not successfully, though he has more success in sowing certain kinds of oats.  Out of prospects, he’d accepted a job as a bookkeeper on a plantation in Jamaica… but didn’t have the money for the voyage.

His friend Gavin Hamilton, in whose memory I’ll have a little something this evening, suggested that Burns publish his poems “as a likely way of getting a little money to provide him… in necessaries for Jamaica.”

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared in July of 1786.  By September there was interest in a second edition.  Within six months he was a celebrated artist.  Jamaica was forgotten–until yet another of his loves, Agnes McLehose (known as Nancy to her friends), chose to rejoin her estranged husband… in Jamaica.

In a final letter before she left Scotland, Burns sent her the poem known as Ae Fond Kiss.  It’s his birthday today; not a bad way to celebrate.

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!  (pledge)

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 for ever.

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved 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 fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee! (pledge)

One thought on “Robert Burns: Jamaica’s loss

  1. Burns is one of my favorite poets. It’s interesting to contrast his work in Scots with the poems he wrote in a more “refined” dialect around the same time — they’re almost generic:

    Humid seal of soft affections,
    Tenderest pledge of future bliss,
    Dearest tie of young connections,
    Love’s first snowdrop, virgin kiss!

    etc. etc. (

    “Ae Fond Kiss” can give you goosebumps. “The Parting Kiss” is just… boring.

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