Auld Lang Syne
"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well-known in many English-speaking countries, and it is often sung to celebrate the start of the new year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day.
The song's (Scots) title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago" or "days gone by". The phrase "Auld Lang Syne" is also used in similar poems by Robert Ayton (1570–1638), Allan Ramsay (1686-1757), and James Watson (1711) as well as older folk songs predating Burns. In his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language, Matthew Fitt uses the phrase “In the days of auld lang syne” as the equivalent of “Once upon a time.” In Scots syne is pronounced like the English word sign. The last line of the chorus is frequently mis-sung by crowds and untrained groups as "for the sake of Auld Lang Syne". This is partly because the words themselves are not understood, but also because it has become common practice. It is rarely, if ever, incorrectly performed by trained choirs.
Robert Burns forwarded 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". At the time it was fashionable to claim someone else's work. It was "traditional"; therefore, one should take Burns' statement with mild scepticism. 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. 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 both in Scotland and in the rest of the world. 
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 (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.
As detailed above, auld lang syne literally means "old long since", but a more idiomatic English translation would be something like "long long ago", "days of long ago", "in olden days", or even "once upon a time". "For old time's sake" or "to the good old days" may be modern-day expressions, in common use as a toast, that capture the spirit of "for auld lang syne".
|Burns’ original Scots verse.
|Scots pronunciation guide
(as Scots speakers would sound)
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
We twa hae run about the braes,
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
An sheerly yil bee yur pynt-staup!
We twa hay rin aboot the braes,
We twa hay pedilt in the burn,
An thers a han, my trustee feer!
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
We two have run about the slopes,
We two have paddled in the stream,
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
Most common use of the song involves only the first verse and the chorus, with the last line often changed to "and days of auld lang syne".
"Auld Lang Syne" is usually sung each year at midnight on New Year's Day (Hogmanay in Scotland) in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and English-speaking areas of India, Pakistan, and Canada, and signifies the start of a new year. In the United Kingdom, it is played at the close of the annual Congress (conference) of the Trades Union Congress. In many Burns Clubs, it is sung to end the Burns supper. The song is also sung at the end of the Last Night of the Proms by the audience (rather than the performers). As such it is never listed on the official programme.
In Scotland, it is often sung at the end of a céilidh or a dance. It is common practice that everyone joins hands with the person next to them to form a great circle around the dance floor. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa. During the last chorus, people might start jumping up and down. When the tune ends, everyone rushes to the middle, while still holding hands. When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outwards with hands still joined.
In Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, and Germany this song is used to mark a farewell. It is also used in the Scout movement for the same purpose, but with somewhat different lyrics.
The tune to which "Auld Lang Syne" is universally sung is a pentatonic Scots folk melody, probably originally a sprightly dance in a much quicker tempo.
English composer William Shield seems to quote the "Auld Lang Syne" melody briefly at the end of the overture to his opera Rosina, which may be its first recorded use. The contention that Burns borrowed the melody from Shield is for various reasons highly unlikely, although they may very well both have taken it from a common source, possibly a strathspey called The Miller's Wedding or The Miller's Daughter. The problem is that tunes based on the same set of dance steps necessarily have a similar rhythm, and even a superficial resemblance in melodic shape may cause a very strong apparent similarity in the tune as a whole. For instance, Burns' poem "Coming Through the Rye" is sung to a tune that might also be based on the Miller's Wedding. The origin of the tune of God Save the Queen (q.v.) presents a very similar problem, and for just the same reason, as it is also based on a dance measure.
Whatever its source, the "Auld Lang Syne" tune has been used all over the world in various contexts.
In France, the melody is used with French words and the parting song is entitled Ce n’est qu’un au revoir ("This is only a goodbye", i.e., a temporary parting, as opposed to a definitive "Farewell").
In Poland and Germany, this tune is used by the Scout movements for their farewell song at the end of summer camps or just to say goodbye after events. The Polish song with other lyrics is titled Ogniska już dogasa blask. The German version is titled Nehmt Abschied Brüder.
- Burns, Robert (1947) [Transcribed 1788]. George Frederick Maine. ed (in English and Scots) (leather-bound sextodecimo). Songs from Robert Burns 1759–1796. Collins Greetings Booklets. Glasgow: Collins Clear-Type Press. pp. 47–48. "This book was purchased at Burns Cottage, and was reprinted in 1967, and 1973"
- Lindsay, Maurice (December 1996) . "Auld Lang Syne". The Burns Encyclopedia (New Third Edition ed.). Robert Hale Ltd.. pp. 448 pages. ISBN 0-7090-5719-9. http://www.robertburns.org/encyclopedia/AuldLangSyne.5.shtml. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
- Links to the original and contemporary melodies can be found here
Published in many scout songbooks, including :
- The Hackney Scout Song Book, ninth edition, 1957
- Auld Lang Syne at Allmusic
- Scotland on TV Auld Lang Syne video performance with lyrics
- Auld Lang Syne A contemporary version of the famous classic anthem