Friday, December 31, 2010
"Auld Lang Syne"
How often have you sung this tune at the passing of the old year? You may have taken the time to research the Scottish brogue and find out what the words mean. I found an article by Peggy Noonan with some good information on its origin.
The following are excerpts from the Noonan article entitled "Days of Auld Lang What?"
You know exactly when you'll hear it, and you probably won't hear it again for a year. The big clock will hit 11:59:50, the countdown will begin—10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4—and the sounds will rise: the party horns, fireworks and shouts of "Happy New Year!"
And then they'll play that song: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?"
It is a poem in Scots dialect, set to a Scots folk tune, and an unscientific survey says that a lot of us don't think much about the words, or even know them.
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.
It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.
The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet."
But "the interesting, more serious message in the song is that the past is important, we mustn't forget it, the old has something for us."
So does the present, as the last stanza makes clear. The song is not only about those who were in your life, but those who are in your life. "And there's a hand, my trusty friend, and give a hand of thine, We'll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne."
Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year and don't forget "Auld Lang Syne".