A Poem for New Year's Eve: "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns

New Year's eve revelers the world over will be singing the familiar refrain "for auld lang syne" as we welcome 2014 tonight. So what are the song's origins?

Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the lyrics in 1788, likely drawing on earlier Scottish "parting" songs, though Burns' words were not put to song until after his death. In contemporary language, "auld lang syne" translates to "the good old days" or "back in the day," and the poem indeed exudes warm nostalgia for the days we leave behind us.

Instances of the song in popular culture abound. For example:

  • Shirley Temple sang it to a dying soldier in the 1937 film Wee Willie Winkie.
  • The cast of It's a Wonderful Life sings it in the 1946 film's final scene.
  • It's sung and discussed at the end of the 1989 comedy When Harry Met Sally

But perhaps the most heartbreaking instance was during the 1914 Christmas Truce at the outset of World War I. German and English soldiers on the Western Front momentarily laid down their arms and left their trenches to exchange food and gifts and sing three songs, "Auld Lang Syne" among them.

Here are Burns' original verses followed by the English translation.

Burns' Original Auld Lang Syne

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.

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.

Chorus

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

Chorus

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.

Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

Auld Lang Syne, English translation

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

Chorus: For auld lang syne, my dear,
            for auld lang syne,
            we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
            for auld lang syne.

And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we've wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Chorus

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

Chorus

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