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"Auld Lang Syne" - Robert Burns

History of an American Folk Song


"Auld Lang Syne"

photo: Getty Images

History of "Auld Lang Syne"

"Auld Lang Syne" started its life as a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns that was set to the tune of an old Scottish folk song. Although Burns' poem was dated to 1788, there are some lyrics that appear to have been taken from an earlier poem by James Watson, titled "Old Long Syne." It wasn't long before the song became traditional in Scotland and the British Isles as a folk song to be sung to commemorate the New Year. As folks from that area of the world emigrated to the States, they brought the tradition with them and it became enmeshed in American tradition.

"Auld Lang Syne" lyrics

The literal meaning of "Auld Lang Syne" is "Old Long Since," or "Long, Long Ago." The lyrics talk about raising a toast to days gone by and all the joyous adventures embarked upon between friends.

The most commonly remembered verse in America is the opening: "Should old acquaintance be forgot / and never brought to mind? / Should old acquaintance be forgot / and days o' lang syne?" These lines ask whether one can forget the days that have gone by and the friends with whom those days have been spent. Consecutive verses recall those days, before ending with the verse:

And there’s a hand my trusty friend
And give us a hand o’ thine
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Read the full lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne" or purchase/download James Taylor's version of the song.

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