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For the Good Times

January 2, 2020

By Jim Rhodes

December 31, 2019

As I write these words it is late in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Tonight, at midnight my wife and I will meet with our neighbors out on the street, where we will enjoy a glass or two of champagne and mumble our way clumsily through Auld Lang Syne, then stumble back to bed.

So as the winter sun dims into twilight, here I am sitting in my library fortifying my vocal cords for the evening festivities with a medicinal dose of single malt beverage humming the familiar Scottish melody.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites references to auld lang syne as early as 1666, but the phrase was popularized by the famous Scottish poet and antiquarian Robert Burns a century later. Burns (pictured above) sent a letter to the Scots Music Museum in 1788 claiming to have discovered the song listening to an old man singing it. Auld Lang Syne was published in 1799 after Burns’ death, and it soon spread across Britain and travelled to the New World and across the British Empire. Today, there are versions of the tune to be heard in Bangladesh, Thailand, Japan, Denmark, Netherlands, South Korea and the Maldives, not to mention Times Square in New York City.

You may be interested to know that Burns also wrote another (entirely forgettable) New Year’s poem called “To a Haggis.”

A word of explanation. The Scots traditionally observe New Year’s Day (called Hogmany in that enlightened land) with a dish called haggis which is made by packing the minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep into the sheep’s stomach and boiled. This delicacy is usually served with turnips and mashed potatoes and washed down by copious quaffs of Scotch whiskey.

But I digress. Back to the subject at hand.

Auld Lang Syne literally means “Long Time Since.”  A reasonable modern translation is “For Old Time’s Sake,” or better yet “The Good Old Days.” In Burns’ poem, a pair of old friends reminisce and drink a toast to the days of their youth when they wandered across the hills and lakes together.

Not that you’ll remember, but here are the complete lyrics.

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 jo,
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 pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

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

Chorus

And on that happy note, dear readers, I will close out 2019 by raising my cup of kindness in your general direction and wishing you a Happy New Year. Cheers!