Last night, at the turn of the new year, we watched the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on TV, followed by this beautiful rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by the cast of the musical Hamilton.
Traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve, ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ is a song about remembering the friends and loved ones we have known in the past.
For the first time in my lifetime of knowing this song, it brought tears to my eyes: not only was 2020 brutal in numerous ways, I knew I was not the only one who was painfully aware of missing a beloved someone. I was blown away by the realisation that this song is as much about grief as it is about wistfulness, friendships of the past, and happy memories.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgotRobert Burns, 1796
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?”
The song we sing now is part of a longer song written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in the late 18th century. Sadly, though, many people sing it without really knowing what it means.
Auld Lang Syne is a sweet little Scots phrase that means ‘for old time’s sake’. It translates literally to “old long since”.
This song was a reinvention of an older song. Burns wrote about his song in separate letters to different people:
“It is the song of the olden times, which has never been in print… I took it down from an old man’s singing.”Robert Burns
“Light be on the turf of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment.”
Just as the original song was much older than Burns’ version, the words themselves are very old. Auld and lang both come from the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons, while syne dates to the 1300s.
It is a beautiful phrase to say: it feels nice in the mouth, and it sounds just lovely, especially when spoken with a Scottish accent.
From now on, when I hear ‘Auld Lang Syne’, I shall think of the wonderful people I have known and loved in my life, and of the happier times of the past, but I will also think of the beautiful words that have been passed down to use from auld lang syne, too.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happier, more hopeful new year. Lang may yer lum reek.
Auld Lang Syne.Tweet
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