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> Auld lang syne, Read about the origins of this song!
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Posted: 27-Dec-2001, 09:05 AM
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It seems whenever I do a little research on a particular subject, it leads back to Scotland! It truly is amazing how many traditions that we hold today, have their original roots back to the Scottish, Irish and Welsh. Of course I am speaking about the Celtic traditions and it is the common thread we share.

The song ?Auld Lang Syne? was partly written by the famous Scottish Poet ? Robert Burns. If you are interested in reading about Robert Burns the poet, check out the Official Robert Burns site for more information about this wonderful Poet!

Full credit for the following article goes towards Robert Burns, a Tribute to Scotland's National Bard. This site has an extensive library of information all about Robert Burns.

Auld Lang Syne

The best known and most often sung of all songs, reminds us that Burns is as much the poet of friendship as of love. This song is now generally sung at the end of a convivial evening and at New Year the world over.

That it speedily took the place of Scotland's older parting song "Good Night and Joy Be with You All" and that it has become the traditional song among English-speaking peoples for bidding farewell to the old year and hailing the new are evidence of the success with which Burns was able to present the theme of passing time through a context of remembered friendship. The song very cunningly combines a note of present conviviality with a poignant sense of the loss of earlier companionship brought by time and distance. Such a note is just right for New Year's Eve, when the mind hovers between retrospect and anticipation and we think equally of days gone for ever and days to come.

Of course Auld Lang Syne is more than a New Year's song. It is one of the great expressions of the tragic ambiguity of man's relation to time, which mixes memory with desire, carrying away old friendships and bringing new, turning childhood escapades into old men's recollections, making change the very condition of consciousness, and at the same time the creator and the destroyer of human experience. All this is done in the purest folk idiom, with no abstract statements or generalizations, except for the chorus itself, which states in simple but powerful terms the question that lies at the heart of so much human emotion.

That the song as we have it is essentially Burns cannot be doubted, though he never claimed authorship, and there is undoubtedly something preserved from an earlier version. We have only to set it beside the earlier extant poems of the same title to see the vast difference between Burns version and what the song had become by the time Burns came to rework it. Here are the first two stanzas of the old Auld Lang Syne which appeared in Ramsay's The Tea Miscellany.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Tho' they return with scars?
These are the noble hero's lot
Obtain'd in glorious wars
Welcome, my Varo, to my breast
Thy arms about me twine
And make me once again as blest
As I was lang syne

Methinks around us on each bough
A thousand cupids play
Whils thro' the groves I walk with you
Each object makes me gay
Since your return the sun and moon
With brighter beams do shine
Streams murmur soft notes while they run
As they did lang syne


This version (which appears also in David Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs) is clearly a sophisticated version far moved from what must have been the original folk song from which the title and the first line are derived. Watson's Choice Collection also has a version, which does not, however, get us very nearer to the real thing

Should old Acquaintance be forgot
And never thought upon
The Flames of Love extinguished
And freely past and gone?
Is thy kind Heart now grown so cold
In that Loving Breast of thine
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old-long-syne?

Where are thy Protestations
Thy Vows and Oaths, my Dear
Thou made to me, and I to thee
In Register yet clear?
Is Faith and Truth so violate
To the Immortal Gods Divine
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old-long-syne?


Henley and Henderson quote from a unique broadside, which was Watson's source, entitled "An Excellent and proper new ballad, entitled Old Long Syne. Newly corrected and amended, with a large and new edition of several excellent love lines." This title, as Henley and Henderson observe, proves the existence of an older version, which Burns may have known. It differs from Watson's version in having a refrain

On old long syne
On old long syne, my jo
On old long syne
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne


What we know of the history from this broadside to the version printed by Ramsay and Herd hardly prepares us for the Auld Lang Syne Burns suddenly communicated to Mrs. Dunlop in a letter dated December 7, 1788. Burns made several changes later, but this is the earliest of his versions:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never thought upon?
Let's hae a waught o' Malaga
For auld long syne.

Chorus
For auld lang syne, my jo
For auld lang syne
Let's hae a waught o' Malaga
For auld lang syne

And surely ye'11 be your pint stoup!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
For auld etc

We two hae run about the braes
And pou't the gowans fine
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne
For auld etc

We twa hae paidl't in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine
But seas between us baith hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne
For auld etc

And there's a han' my trusty fiere
And gie's a han' o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gudewilly waught
For auld lang syne!


He added, Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired Poet who composed this glorious Fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it, than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians.

Writing to Thomson in September 1793, he enclosed a slightly different version, preceded by this remark, The air is but mediocre (not the tune to which it is now sung) but the following song, the 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's singing is enough to recommend any air:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days o' lang syne?

Chorus
For auld lang syne, my Dear
For auld lang syne
We'll tak a cup o kindness yet
For auld lang syne

And surely ye'11 be your pint-stowp
And surely I'll be mine
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne
For auld lang etc

We twa hae run about the braes
And pu'd the gowans fine
But we've wandered mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne
For auld lang etc

We twa hae paidlet i' the burn
Frae morning sun sill dine
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne
For auld lang etc

And there's a hand, my trusty feire
And gie's a hand o' thine
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught
For auld lang syne
For auld lang etc


The song appeared in the fifth volume of the Museum, published at the end of 1796 after Burns death, and Burns probably saw it in proof. There are minor variations from the version communicated to Thomson in 1793. The last line of the first verse reads instead of And auld lang syne!
And days o' lang syne? and the first line of the chorus ends with my jo instead of my Dear.

In the interleaved Museum Burns appended a note to the twenty-fifth song, which was the earlier Auld Lang Syne as printed by Ramsay. The original and by much the best set of the words of this song is as follows. He then wrote out a version of the song which differs slightly from all of those just cited, though it is closest to Johnson's. It has Johnson's order of the verses and has my jo in the chorus, but agrees with the version communicated to Thomson in reading
And days o' lang syne?
at the end of the first verse.

The version which appeared in Thomson's Scottish Airs, 1799, is, as we should expect, the same as that communicated to Thomson in 1793. Here for the first time it is set to the tune to which it has since been sung. James Dick has presented evidence which suggests, although it cannot be proved, that Burns, who knew Thomson's tune and who had referred to his own tune as mediocre, had been consulted and had approved the setting of the song to Thomson's tune.

Modern texts of the song tend to be a conflation of the Museum and the Thomson versions, and perhaps in a song of this kind that is no great matter. Its greatness lies in the linking of the central emotion to the idea of time and change through precise contrasts between past and present:

We twa hae run about the braes
And pu't the gowans fine
But we've wandered mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne


The precision with which Burns captures the quality of a boy's holiday activity in this and the subsequent stanza is remarkable, and those who have in fact spent their boyhood in Scotland and their summers there running about the braes or paidling in the burn cannot read or sing these verses without an immediate recall of the essential quality of those days. But their appeal is not simply to autobiography; the two activities are perfect symbols of lost youth in any context, and when they are juxtaposed to images suggestive of time and distance the effect is immediate. The sublimation of nostalgia for the past in present good fellowship brings the poem to a close (whichever version we take) with a formal social gesture, in the light of which everything falls into shape; past and present are held together for one tenuous moment by ritual, which is man's way of marking permanently the fleeting meanings of things.

The lines - And surely ye'11 be your pint-stowp And surely I'll be mine translate as And you will buy your own pint tankard and I will buy my own is a means of saying that since old friends can be separated by time and distance they can still buy each other a pint and remember their friendship. This can be further exemplified by saying that the greatest time and distance that you can be from your friends is when they are no longer on this earth and yet you can still buy your pint and raise a glass to them in remembrance. The ritual of holding hands is symbolic of shaking hands with everyone, and if this is done across the globe then you are in effect shaking hands with your friends everywhere.

Auld Lang Syne Translated

Should old friends be forgotten
and never remembered
Should old friends be forgotten
and the days they shared together

Chorus
For days now in the past, my dear
For days now in the past
We'll drink a toast of kind remembrance
For days now in the past

You can pay for your pint tankard
and I will pay for mine
We'll drink a toast of kind remembrance
For days now in the past

We two have run about the hillsides
and pulled wild daisies
but now we are far apart in distance
From those days now in the past

We two have paddled in the stream
from morning untill noon
but oceans now lie between us
since those days now in the past

So take my hand, my trusty friend
and give me your hand
and we will take a hearty drink together
In memory of those days now in the past


So when you hear Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of 12 this New Year's Eve; remember, we have Robert Burns, our Scottish Poet, to thank for such a lovely and touching song!

Happy New Years!

:D



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