What we keep forgetting about Auld Lang Syne

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – “Auld Lang Syne” is the New Year’s theme song and the soundtrack for that special midnight kiss. But most Americans know very little about the origin, words and meaning of the song.

The lyrics were written in the late 18th Century by Scottish poet Robert Burns, although some of the words were borrowed from an older song.

Interestingly, the music the lyrics go along with today is not the same tune Burns originally set the words to.

The words “Auld Lang Syne” roughly translate to “long long ago” and the song is about keeping old memories alive. But because the song begins with a question, some people think it means the opposite.

When we asked people in Southern Maryland to recite the lyrics, here are some of the responses we heard:

“Something about old acquaintance, right? Shall be forgot?”

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”

“All acquaintance be forgot, or something like that, right?”

Here are Burns’ lyrics, followed by a modern translation, according to Scotland.org:

Auld Lang Syne

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

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

Chorus

Long, Long Ago (a modern translation)

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear
For long, long ago,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago

And surely youll buy your pint-jug!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered manys the weary foot
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will
For long, long ago.

Chorus

Click here to see a written manuscript of one version of the song in a letter dating from 1793. The letter is currently on exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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