The song begins by posing a rhetorical question: Is it right that old times be forgotten? The answer is generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships. Thomson‘s Select Songs of Scotland was published in 1799 in which the second verse about greeting and toasting was moved to its present position at the end.
Auld Lang Syne
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For other uses, see Auld Lang Syne (disambiguation).
The song’s Scots title may be translated into standard English as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”. Consequently, “For auld lang syne”, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as “for (the sake of) old times”.”Auld Lang Syne” (Scots pronunciation: [ˈɔːl(d) lɑŋˈsəin]: note “s” rather than “z”) is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions. The international Scouting movement, in many countries, uses it to close jamborees and other functions.
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. Matthew Fitt uses the phrase “In the days of auld lang syne” as the equivalent of “Once upon a time…” in his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language.
Robert Burns sent 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.” 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, and is almost certainly derived from the same “old song”.
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.
On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.
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 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 (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.
A manuscript of “Auld Lang Syne” is held in the permanent collection of The Lilly Library at Indiana Universityin Bloomington, Indiana.
More at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auld_Lang_Syne