Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

This well-known poem is often sung on the eve and start of the New Year. It is a song of remembrance, of friends and history. But what is the history of the poem, how did it become a song, and what can we learn from this poem written a couple of centuries ago? Perhaps because of the old language and the time that it was written, we think we are too far removed to learn anything from this poem. Many might think we simply sing it for tradition’s sake, and that may be so. But in part, that is why we should sing it, not because we simply should, but because it is a reminder of days past.

First, who wrote this song? Robert Burns is definitely the one who wrote most of the verses to the poem, and he is the one who made the poem popular. But the idea of the song and even a couple of the phrases were not new. While Burns had basically written the lyrics in 1788 – though not published until after his death – elements, phrases, and the tune had come from pieces of the past, such as a song from a near century before, a poem by a Robert Ayton, parts of another by Allan Ramsay, and other tunes of the previous couple hundred years (Robert Burns Encyclopedia; National Library of Scotland). One such poem used the phrases “Auld kindnes Foryett” and “Auld Lang Syne”; these came from poetry of the 15th century but was later used by a Scottish poet named George Bannatyne in the mid-1500’s (Electric Scotland). In a letter from 1793, Burns wrote on his poem about where the tune and some of the lyrics came from:

One song more, and I am done – Auld Langsyne. The aid is but mediocre; but the following song, the old song of the olden times, and which has never been in print, not even in manuscript, until I took it down from an old man’s singing, is enough to recommend any air.” (Stenhouse 374)

Burns notes also that he was not the sole crafter of the poem, at least not of all of it, but rather the compiler and preserver of this poem, whose words had in some form or another been around for years and whose message should last for many more (Stenhouse 374).

The words are written, though not always sung, in the Scots Language as even the tune came from an old Scottish tune. That tune had been around much longer than the poem and Burns.  In a letter, Burns noted a song which “had often thrilled through [his] soul” though it had a mediocre tune (Electric Scotland). The first instance of that tune was found to be from 1700 London, though it was a “Scotch Tune” (Electric Scotland). The air was called “For Old Long Gine my Jo” and was written for violin without words (Electric Scotland). Other variations of the song also existed at this time and later. This was the old melody, however, and not the one that is used now. This new one arose after Burns’ song was finally published posthumously in Thomson’s “Select Songs of Scotland” in 1799, and it was he who gave it a more contemporary tune (Electric Scotland). For a more complete history on the lyrics and tune, read this site. Here is also a link to the original tune and another for the common melody we sing to today.

Since the time it was written to the present, people from Scotland to America to Europe and India have sung this tune in one form or another. For many, and especially those of Scottish ancestry, this song is sung to commemorate the past. This song is not only sung on the dawn of the new year but also for other events and celebrations. And it is for this reason that this song is sung. Yes, it has rather catchy and soothing tune, but the words are what really give it meaning. People have always had a reason to celebrate, and many parts of the year hold its own special celebrations. But what of this song? What can we learn from these lyrics?

The first verse poses a question: should old friends and old times be forgotten? The question is asking that as we go into the new year, should we continue without those who came before and with us, even in memory? Should days past be left behind? The rhetorical answer is ‘no.’ That is why in the chorus, the song says it is for old times sake that we “take a cup of kindness” as we enter into the new year. The second verse echos this sentiment saying “you’ll buy your pint” and “I’ll buy mine,” basically meaning that we will go together, and we will take our own with us and with good-will. The third verse is more about our own personal past, whereas the first is about our history. We “run” and “picked the daisies” and we also “wandered many a weary foot” for many years since. There were good and bad times. The song is clear in its intent: remember those times equally. The fourth verse has to do with the singers’ relation to each other. They have gone together and have had roaring seas between them, either literally or metaphorically. But what are these singers in the fifth verse? They are a “trusty friend!” Moreover the singers are likely family, too. So together, hand in hand, they will drink to their good-will for old times sake and for the new year they walk together into.

Thus, Auld Lang Syne is a song of friendship, of family, of memories new and old. This is a song of remembrance, of wishing good-will, and hope. It is of standing together, arm-in-arm no matter what seas try to come between. And like the song, it is good for people to remember where and who they came from. It is good for us to remember our history. Why do we not ask about our parents lives, our ancestors, old friends? Why do we not keep in mind the old good and bad times? These are part of what made us who we are. This new year, like the last, was built on those years that came before. During this time of year, more than most, we greet our friends with good-will, hand-in-hand, and perhaps with even a hug or two. And after all, shouldn’t we sing of the good cheer given in life with a good song to sing with a good friend?

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.

~ Deuteronomy 32:7 ~

Blessings to you and yours,

~Rose


Works Cited

“Auld Lang Syne.” Electric Scotland. Accessed 1 Jan. 2018.

“Auld Lang Syne.” Robert Burns Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 Jan. 2018.

“Auld Lang Syne.” Wikipedia. Accessed 1 Jan. 2018.

“Broadside Ballad Entitled ‘Old Long Syne’.” National Library of Scotland. 2004. Accessed 1 Jan. 2018.

Stenhouse, William, and James Johnson. The Scots Musical Museum. Vol. IV. Edinburgh And London: William Blackwood and Sons. 1853. 374.

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