It has come to symbolize the bittersweet moment when the clock strikes the New Year, when we mark time passing. It is a poem in Scots dialect, set to a Scots folk tune, and a lot of us don’t think much about the words, or even know them. We all know the beginning lines though: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?”
“Auld Lang Syne“—the phrase can be translated as “long, long ago,” or “old long since,” is a song that asks an important question that is about being alive and how we live our lives at the simplest level. And about what we mean to those we’ve encountered along the way and what they meant to us, at the end of the road.
It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland.
In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print.” Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one “from an old man”—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne “exceedingly expressive” and thought whoever first wrote the poem “heaven inspired.” The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it’s sung to mark the new.
The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn’t be. We’ll remember those times and those people, we’ll toast them now and always, we’ll keep them close. “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet.”
The song is not only about those who were in your life, but those who are in your life. “And there’s a hand, my trusty friend, and give a hand of thine, We’ll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne.”
Those are the essentials, I think, at the end of a year and why I believe this song is so enduring. What can I say? I get sentimental!
A little more history of the poem and song, along with interesting translations here:
Shall we sing along with this?– it has the words:
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
- New Year Celebrations Hogmanay (socyberty.com)