Sunday, December 30, 2012

Auld Lang Syne

Postcard 1910
by Lauren Gilbert

          New Year’s Eve…  This is the day when most of us look back at the old year passing away, celebrating the good things that happened, mourning our losses, and generally taking stock.  We also look forward to the new year approaching, preparing to shake off the dust and move forward.  Parties and celebrations are the order of the day, a happy way to speed the old year out and the New Year in.  Many traditions are involved in the New Year’s celebration, and one of these is the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” 

Robert Burns

          The lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796).  However, this is a much older song than we really know.  Variations of “Auld Lang Syne” abound.  Over the years, as is the way with many traditional songs, the lyrics and melodies have varied to suit the time and those singing it.  Although not published, a written record of lyrics for this song (then a lament about a faithless lover) was found in the Commonplace Book of James Crichton, 2nd Viscount Frendraught, for 1662.  James Watson included a version in his CHOICE COLLECTION OF COMIC AND SERIOUS SCOTS POEMS, published in 1711.  Allan Ramsay also included “Auld Lang Syne” in A COLLECTION OF SONGS published in 1724. 
          In September of 1793, Robert Burns wrote a letter to George Thomson, an editor working on an anthology of songs.  Burns commented on songs that Thompson had proposed for the anthology, and suggested that Thompson include one more, which was “Auld Lang Syne.”  Burns indicated that he wrote down the words while listening to an old man sing them.  Burns’ lyrics appeared in Volume 5 of James Johnson’s SCOTS MUSICAL MUSEUM, published in 1796, and are indicated as “old verses with corrections or additions.”  The music published with it then was different, and Burns apparently did not care for it.  When Thomson’s anthology SELECT COLLECTION OF ORIGINAL SCOTISH AIRS was published in 1799 (after Burns’ death), he changed the music to that which we know now.  The Morgan Library and Museum website has a wonderful online exhibition where you can look at and listen to a reading, and the musical variations of this song ( ).
           “Auld Lang Syne” was associated with the Scottish celebration of Hogmanay (a traditional New Year’s event).  Whether it was because it was a traditional song, or because of its theme of remembrance, it gradually became associated with the New Year’s events in the United Kingdom, and it spread to the colonies.  However, it was not a “popular” song in the modern sense until 1929 when Guy Lombardo adopted “Auld Lang Syne” for his annual New Year’s Eve broadcasts on radio and then television.
          Depending on the version of choice, the number of verses varies, and the meaning of the song can be obscure because of the dialect.  Commonly, the first verse and refrain is what we sing as the ball drops at midnight.  I thought it would be nice to include the first verse and refrain with some clarification:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?”
“For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”

“Auld”-old.    “Auld lang syne”- literally old long since, by-gone days, old times.    “Tak”-take.
I wish you a very Happy New Year!
Sources:  “Scottish Hogmanay Customs and Traditions at New Year.”  ” Frequently Asked Questions.” 
Kirsten Koster blog.  “A Regency Primer on Christmastide & New Year’s.”  Posted 12/27/2011 by Kirsten Koster.  
The Morgan Library & Museum Online Exhibitions.   “Auld Lang Syne-The Story of a Song.”
Washington Post Style Section online.  “’Auld Lang Syne’: New Year’s song has a convoluted history” by Claire Prentice, published 12/30/2011.     
Yahoo! Voices.  “History Behind Auld Lang Syne: The New Year’s Eve Song.”  By Michael Barger, posted 12/8/2008. 
Images from Wikimedia Commons:
By Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel


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