Auld Lang Syne - a New Year song that originated as far back as 1788

A cup of kindness and a beautiful moment to reflect as we move into a new year.

 

Global – “Auld Lang Syne” is traditionally sung at the conclusion of New Year gatherings around the world but do you actually know why?

Robert Burns wrote “Auld Lang Syne” as a poem in 1788, set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, and its traditional use is to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions. The international Scouting movement in many countries uses it to close jamborees and other functions.

Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.”

Some of the lyrics were indeed “collected” rather than composed by the poet; the ballad “Old Long Syne” printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns’ later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same “old song”.

The first stanza of the James Watson ballad is very different from the one we know today:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne. 

It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

The poem’s Scots title may also be translated into standard English as “old long since” or, more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by”, or “old times”. Consequently, “For auld lang syne”, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as “for the sake of old times”.

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

The song begins by posing a rhetorical question: Is it right that old times be forgotten? The answer is generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships. A cup of kindness and a beautiful moment to reflect as we move into a new year.

Here’s the modern version lyrics as we all know it:

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

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

Chorus 

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus 


Sources: Auld Lang Syne 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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