"Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burns met pretty Agnes M'Lehose, called "Nancy," in Edinburgh, where he was then the toast of society. She was living apart from her drunken husband. At her insistence he confined his passion to a notable correspondence and a number of poems. Perhaps she was one of those subjects of his love poems of whom he wrote, "I have only to feign the passion–the charms are real"; or, perhaps, she was with "Highland Mary" Campbell and his wife, Jean Armour, one of his unfeigned loves. Certainly he wrote to her one of our finest love poems when she was preparing to sail to Jamaica, hoping to rejoin her husband. In it, he says they will kiss once, then part forever; and he will be plunged into hopelessness. However, he refuses to repine, for to see Nancy was to love her always, and only by never meeting could they have been spared this heartbreak. He bids "Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!/ Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!" The poem opens with these lines:

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
A 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.