Today, around the world, people gather to celebrate 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.
Practically everyone in the English speaking world knows something of Burns , even if it is only few words of the chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
However, for the sake of making the familiar unfamiliar, and maybe restoring the song to some of its former glory, I’m including it here in the setting that Burns himself may have intended.
One of my own favourite Burns songs is the hauntingly beautiful Ae Fond Kiss. Down the years I have had the priveleged to listen to some very good versions of this song, two of which, one by my friend, the folk singer Seán Cannon, and the other by another friend, the jazz singer Christine Tobin, always remain etched in my memory long after I’ve listened to them.
This is how Wikipedia describes the genesis of the song.
At the suggestion of his brother, Robert Burns published his poems in the volume Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect, known as the Kilmarnock volume. First proposals were published in April 1786 before the poems were finally published in Kilmarnock in July 1786 and sold for 3 shillings. Brought out by John Wilson, a local printer in Kilmarnock, it contained much of his best writing, including The Twa Dogs, Address to the Deil, Hallowe’en, The Cotter’s Saturday Night, To a Mouse, and To a Mountain Daisy, many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm. The success of the work was immediate, and soon he was known across the country.
Burns was invited to Edinburgh on 14 December 1786 to oversee the preparation of a revised edition, the first Edinburgh edition, by William Creech, which was finally published on 17 April 1787 (within a week of this event, Burns sold his copyright to Creech for 100 guineas). In Edinburgh, he was received as an equal by the city’s brilliant men of letters and was a guest at aristocratic gatherings, where he bore himself with unaffected dignity. Here he encountered, and made a lasting impression on, the 16-year-old Walter Scott, who described him later with great admiration
His stay in the city resulted in some lifelong friendships, among which were those with Lord Glencairn, and Frances Anna Dunlop (1730-1815), who became his occasional sponsor and with whom he corresponded for the rest of his life. He embarked on a relationship with the separated Agnes ‘Nancy’ McLehose (1758-1841), with whom he exchanged passionate letters under pseudonyms (Burns called himself ‘Sylvander’ and Nancy ‘Clarinda’). When it became clear that Nancy would not be easily seduced into a physical relationship, Burns moved on to Jenny Clow (1766-1792), Nancy’s domestic servant, who bore him a son, Robert Burns Clow in 1788. His relationship with Nancy concluded in 1791 with a final meeting in Edinburgh before she sailed to Jamaica for what transpired to be a short-lived reconciliation with her estranged husband. Before she left, he sent her the manuscript of Ae Fond Kiss as a farewell to her.
Karen Matheson with Paul Brady – Ae Fond Kiss: from Transatlantic Sessions series 2 -1998 – BBC.