A Kiss Goodbye for Love

Upon first reading Agnes Craif McLehose’s “Ae Fond Kiss,” I interpreted the parting of the lovers as the two being forced to separate as a result of death. However, after reading the sections of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men, I realized another possible interpretation of the poem. At one point Wollstonecraft describes how many parents were often very controlling of their children’s lives, especially when it came to marriage (126).  Wollstonecraft wrote, “Girls are sacrificed to family convenience, or else marry to settle themselves in a superior rank, and coquet, without restraint, with the fine gentleman whom I have already described,” (126). This section made me wonder if the separation of the lovers in “Ae Fond Kiss” could be a result of one being forced to marry another by parents or society.

One thing that I noticed was that all twenty-four lines of “Ae Fond Kiss” end with some type of punctuation. As a result of this added punctuation at the end of each line, the poem is slowed down. For example McLehose wrote, “Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest! / Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!” (17-18). Not only are there exclamation points at the end of each line, but each also has a comma and the broken up “Fare-thee-weel.” When I think of a goodbye between lovers who are being forced to marry someone else, it’s not a quick process, it’s long and emotional. McLehose’s decision to include the punctuation helps convey that long, drawn out goodbye because they force the reader to stop and slow down while reading. Another element that McLehose incorporates into “Ae Fond Kiss” is an aabb rhyme scheme. This is a very simple rhyme scheme and allows the reader to focus on the rest of the poem and pay attention to things like the punctuation that help the poem stand out.

5 thoughts on “A Kiss Goodbye for Love”

  1. I appreciated the connection between Wollstonecraft and Burns in these circumstances, as Wollstonecraft’s commentary on marital status in “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” plays an important lens in interpreting “Ae Fond Kiss”. Given the time period, I think you are right on track in that “Ae Fond Kiss” could definitely be a commentary on the significance of marital status, along with two lovers who cannot marry for economic or political reasons. I also enjoyed your analysis of punctuation in relation to meaning, because in a poem that was popularized in singing form such as “A Fond Kiss”, I think the significance of punctuation cannot be understated.

  2. I’m pretty sure that Robert Burns wrote this poem but I really enjoyed your analysis! It is a super interesting lens to look at the parting of the lovers as due to social tradition, and I wonder if any other poets wrote about something similar. Burn’s use of punctuation is really interesting here, and I think it does help slow the poem down and give it more of a ‘lament’ feeling. Does Burns do this in other poems? Is there any historical background in Burns’ life that could support your claim?

  3. I never thought of the poem as a lamentation between two lovers having no choice but to depart from one another, and it does change the entire meaning of the open from being rather lovely to have a sorrowful melancholiness to it. I like the use of Wollstonecraft but I also don’t see where the economic side of the departure falls. I think it’s a bit of a stretch, but nonetheless, it still works in its own manner. I think it might have more to do with–if you wanted to read it this way–a departure between a child and a parent. Since a long farewell certainly does take place between two people, I would think that it’s actually between family because of how objective and not beauty oriented the language is. Most love poems deal with beauty at the forefront and how the lover will never forget what their lover looked like (I’m thinking of Petrarch and Syndey) and, if I remember correctly, that doesn’t happen in this…I could be wrong though.

  4. I think that looking at the lovers as two people forced to marry, rather than people who are deeply in love is a very interesting perspective. I had a similar first impression of the relationship depicted in the poem, and imagined two lovers grappling with death and being separated at the end of life. The entire poem is centered around the two people leaving each other’s lives, but I never thought it could be a result of failed marriage and not death. I actually think that this is a very plausible way of interpreting the poem, especially since our modern understanding of marriage is very different from what it would have been at the time this poem was published. Marrying for social connections and economic reasons would have made a lot of sense for couples, it’s interesting to look at the poem as being centered around a certain unhappiness or dissatisfaction in the marriage. I also took note of the punctuation in the poem, I enjoyed your analysis!

  5. I really love your analysis of Robert Burns’s poem, “Ae Fond Kiss.” Thinking of this poem in the context of two lovers being forced to part because of their social classes is fascinating. Building off of your idea, I wonder what it might mean that the speaker includes the word “wage” when describing the bet he would like to place on which person, himself or the beloved, will dispel the most sighs and groans. A part of me also wonders if perhaps this poem is about the loss of a first love, as the speaker mentions words like “first” and “dearest.” Perhaps the lovers are parting because they are taking two different paths in life and the love that they once had for one another is no longer a good fit for the lives they are choosing to lead.

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