Auld Lang Syne

The generally accepted practice throughout the English-speaking world on New Year's Eve is to gather at midnight (usually in such locations as Times Square in New York and Trafalgar Square in London), drink a toast to the coming year and sing a rousing chorus of a song which has become indivisible with the celebration of modern New Year's festivities. That song being "Auld Lang Syne," with words in the Scottish dialect, transcribed by Robert Burns and written around 1788. The title means "old long since" or "long ago" and the melody based on an old Scottish folk tune. The lyrics and music were first published together in Volume V of the "Scots Musical Museum" in 1796, approximately six months after the death of Scotland's Bard.

Not only sung at New Year, but also sung on Burns' Night, this song of friendship and salutation was by no means the first of its kind. In a note written to one George Thomson in 1793, Burns describes the song as "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." A similar "Auld Lang Syne" tune, however, was actually printed in approximately 1700 and is therefore much older. The Burns' version was adapted by Thomson (most likely with Burns' acquiescence), but Johnson (the publisher) had already reprinted Allan Ramsay's "Auld Lang Syne" (a different tune set to a love song rather than to a song of parting) in Volume I of the "Scots Musical Museum" in 1787. There also appear to be many even more ancient and/or intermediary variants of this New Year song. Nevertheless, the timeless Burns' version remains the one that is most treasued and, in Scotland, "Auld Lang Syne" gradually displaced the century-old "Good-night and joy be wi' you a'."

Despite the popularity of "Auld Lang Syne," it has aptly been described as "the song that nobody knows." Even in Scotland, hardly a single gathering sings it correctly, or without some members of the party introducing the bogus line: "We'll meet again some ither nicht" for: "And we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet," the words which Robert Burns actually rendered...and that is to say nothing of adding "the days of" to the original chorus.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

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

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fitt,
Sin auld land syne.

We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd,
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

jo = dear
ye'll...stowp = you'll pay for your pint measure (of drink)
twa = two
braes = hills or hillsides
pou'd = pulled or plucked
gowans = daises
mony = many
fitt = foot or step
paidl'd = paddled or waded
burn = brook or stream
dine = dinner time or noon
braid = broad
fiere = friend
gie's = give us
guid willie-waught = goodwill drink