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Auld Lang Syne


Verse 1

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


You may well have heard or sung the words above at the dawn of a new year or at the end of a Burns Supper. Auld Lang Syne is attributed to Robert Burns, though he did not lay claim to the poem. Burns was interested in and researched old Scottish folk songs, and it is believed that whilst he may have had some input to the wording of later verses Auld Lang Syne is his interpretation of an old Scottish folk song. Auld lang syne means “old long since” or “long time ago”; thus this first verse asks whether we remember those we have known in the past/distant past, with the implicit suggestion that it is good to remember those long gone or far away. Even if you don’t know the first verse of Auld Lang Syne you may well know the chorus...


Chorus

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


Older Scots versions say my jo at the end of the first line of the chorus; the more anglicised version – the one I grew up with – replaces my jo with my dear which has the same meaning. People frequently sing for the sake of old lang syne as the last line of the chorus, thus allowing a note for each word.


Verse 2

Do you know more than the first verse and the chorus? If so you are unusual, for whilst this song is known across the English speaking world it tends to be just the first verse and chorus, often repeated several times, which are sung at gatherings.

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


This verse suggests that both the writer/singer and their companion(s) buy their own pint cup, following which they will drink together in memory of friends, relatives and acquaintances they have not seen for many a year.


Verse 3

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


The third verse moves from the general to the particular, talking about the writer’s relationship with one person from his past. He talks of running around hills (in Scotland the word brae may be used for anything from a slight incline to a steep hill). He talks of them picking dasies (gowan) together, then says that since they knew each other they have wondered many weary miles (mony a weary fit) alone.


Verse 4

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.

This verse further develops the story of a friendship/relationship that has moved on. The writer talks of paddling together in a stream (burn) from morning to night. Yet since they enjoyed such simple pleasures seas have roared between them – the suggestion being that they live in different lands. This may be part of why the song is popular far beyond Scotland, appealing to Scots communities in different parts of the world who value their Scottish heritage.


Verse 5

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.


This last verse has the seeds of the tradition of joining crossed hands in a huge circle whilst singing Auld Lang Syne. The writer offers his hand to a friend and asks the friend to give him a hand in return. He suggests they both take a good will drink to those they have known long ago, wishing them well and ensuring they are not forgotten. For those that get through the whole five verses (with choruses in between), the final chorus is rousing – everyone is likely to remember the words, especially as this is their fifth go at the chorus!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Asha Sahni. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Asha Sahni. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Asha Sahni for details.

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