A LOVE song by Robert Burns to a married woman he would never call his own will be shown to literary lovers on Burns Day – but only for 90 minutes.
The rare, handwritten love letter penned by Burns to his married lady friend, Nancy McLehose, will be displayed in the Capital to the public for the short period due to the delicacy of the paper.
The letter contains the poet’s most famous love song, Ae Fond Kiss, written as a touching farewell to Nancy – as a heart-rendering keepsake of unrequited love.
Written on December 27, 1791, as Nancy prepared to depart for Jamaica to attempt a reconciliation with her husband, the song expresses Burns’ despair as all hope of their relationship blossoming was extinguished by her duty.
Burns and McLehose had first met four years earlier in Edinburgh when Burns was unmarried. The couple exchanged a string of touching letters using the pseudonyms Sylvander and Clarinda.
The relationship presented somewhat of a social taboo for Burns and McLehose – given that she was a married mother, whose husband was living in the West Indies.
The attraction between her and Burns was, however, intense and they soon started to exchange passionate messages, but despite the apparent affection the relationship remained a platonic one.
Written by Burns in Dumfries, the letter informs McLehose that he is sending her some recently composed songs.
Then, for the first time ever, he presents a song that has become famous around the world with its familiar opening lines: “A’e fond kiss, and then we sever; Ae fareweel, and then forever!”
The letter was gifted to the National Library of Scotland in the 1930s and is one of around 50 between the pair.
Ralph McLean, 18th century manuscripts curator at the library, said the letter was “bittersweet”.
“It’s the last letter that he wrote to her and the first time Ae Fond Kiss appears. He wrote it for her and it’s in his own hand.”
It will go on display in the library boardroom at George IV Bridge on Monday between 12.30pm and 2pm.