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“Auld Lang Syne”

When the fiddle had stopped sing Laura called out softly, ‘What are the days of auld lang syne, Pa?’ – ‘They are the days of a long time ago, Laura, Pa said… — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 13, “The Deer in the Wood”

AAuld Lang Syne is one of the most recognized tunes, but also referred to as “the song nobody knows” because most people know only a few of the words! It is usually sung on New Year’s Eve at midnight to celebrate the start of the new year. The tune first appears in published form in 1700; in 1788, Robert Burns included a fragment of “Auld Lang Syne” in a letter, saying “Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired Poet who composed this glorious Fragment.” Burns described it as “the 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’s singing.” Scholars have debated at length as to how much Burns wrote of “Auld Lang Syne.” Many believe he wrote only verses 3 and 4, and that the rest were penned in the 16th century.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born near Ayr, Scotland, the son of a poor farmer. As a teenager, “Rabbie” began writing verses in Scots dialect and received recognition for his writing. He unsuccessfully labored as a farmer until circumstances (he fathered at least nine children by five different women) made him decide to move to Jamaica. In order to secure money for the trip, he published a book of his verses at Kilmarnock in 1786. It was so highly regarded that he was asked to come to Edinburgh and publish another edition of the work.

This was the turning point in Burns’ life. In Edinburgh, he was among society, riches, and learning, and both his poetry and conversational skills were much in demand. Hard work and hard drink led to health problems, however, and he died at age 37. Today, Burns is the Official Bard (poet) of Scotland, and on his January 25th birthday each year, Scots around the world celebrate with a Burns Night Supper. Mary Ingalls was such a fan of Robert Burns that at her graduation from the Iowa College for the Blind, she performed a Burns essay, “Bide a Wee and Dinna Weary.”

(original version)

1. 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 dear,
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

2. 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!

3. We twa hae run about the braes
And pou’d the gowans fine
But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.

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.

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

For reference — auld lang syne: literally means “times gone by”; be: pay for; braes: hills; braid: broad; burn: stream; dine: dinner; fiere: friend; fit: foot; gowans: daisies; guid-willie waught: goodwill drink; monie: many; morning sun: noon; paidl’d: paddled; pint-stowp: pint tankard; pou’d: pulled; twa: two.

(from Little House in the Big Woods)

Shall auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Shall auld acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang syne?

And the days of auld lang syne, my friend,
And the days of auld lang syne,
Shall auld acquaintance be forgot,
And the days of auld lang syne?

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the images above to view a copy of 1877 sheet music of “Auld Lang Syne.”

This music is archived in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0185 USA.. The Historic American Sheet Music Program provides access to music published in the United States between 1850 and 1920.    


“Auld Lang Syne” (BW 13), see also “Old Grimes”
     “Should auld acquaintance be forgot…”