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Historically Speaking

For auld lang syne

  • 3 min to read
A secret and dangerous mission

David Christy

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne.

I’ve been watching lots of the TV show Fail Army on TBD. And, while I hate to be negative to start off the new year and new decade, I’ve come to the incontrovertible conclusion there is an absolutely unending supply of stupid people in this world.

And we, as Americans, have a fair majority of them.

A lack of common sense seems to shine through in all the episodes.

I sometimes think it’s amazing mankind is still around.

Heck, maybe we are doomed and don’t even realize it yet.

Kind of like the theme of Fail Army.

I always wonder how many of those same fails on that TV show end up in the hospital, and how many of them actually learn a sometimes-hard life lesson — or … not!

You can’t slide down a pipe railing on a skateboard without falling spectacularly onto concrete several score times before you actually get a clean ride video.

I guess that’s why we have hospitalization and life insurance.

Anyway — with this year’s frivolous observation out of the way — a friend asked me about what the words to “Auld Lang Syne” meant, so I thought it was a good history lesson moment for both you and me!

“Auld Lang Syne” has been sung at thousands of New Year’s observances for many years the world over.

Heck, when I was younger, I thought Auld Lang Syne was just some old guy named Lang Syne we sang about once a year.

It was famed Scottish poet Robert Burns — of “Tam o’ Shanter” and “A Red, Red Rose” fame — who in the year 1788 sent the poem “Auld Lang Syne” to the Scots Musical Museum, stating that it was an ancient song, but that Burns had been the first to record it on paper.

Now, it’s not unusual that stories and tales and song from our ancient past were not put to paper, but have been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, grandpa to grandkids over the thousands of years humans have been on this planet.

It’s how most families have heard stories or gain knowledge of their long-dead ancestors for recorded history.

Without these stories, much of our earliest history would be lost. In fact, much of our earliest history has been lost, because it wasn’t documented, wasn’t put to paper or wax tablets or whatever has been used to record our past.

Burns, in fact, said the phrase “auld lang syne” roughly translates to “for old times’ sake.”

He said the song is about preserving old friendships and to look back over the events of the previous year.

It’s something this newspaper, and scores of other publications, do every year.

We record history of events, individuals, nations, the good and the bad of our communities, our society.

For Burns, the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” came to us in the language of the Scots, with the title translating literally to “since long ago” or “for old times’ sake.”

The lyrics, and the many verses to the song, are about old friends having a drink and recalling adventures they had long ago.

And, in fact, there are no real references to the new year that is to come.

Sung the world over, “Auld Lang Syne” is a brilliant means of evoking strong emotions in people, to remember events of the year past, of their mistakes, their triumphs, those who passed — perhaps with a renewed energy for the future year that is to come.

Of course, this nation has very strong ties to Scotland, with literally millions of Americans with Scottish ancestry in their families, in their blood.

Now, poems with similar words existed before Burns.

In my research, I found Sir Robert Ayton, who died in 1638, wrote “Old Long Syne,” a poem first published in 1711, and was cited as an inspiration for Burns.

In 1720, the Scots poet Allan Ramsay published a poem that begins with the line, “should auld acquaintance be forgot.”

In Burns’ famous poem, it is Scottish tradition to sing “Auld Lang Syne” just before midnight on Dec. 31. Everyone stands in a circle holding hands, and at the beginning of the final verse, everyone crosses arms across their bodies so the left hand is holding the hand of the person on their right, and their right hand holds that of the person to their left, rushing to the middle as the song ends.

And, in my best Scots’ accent, another verse of this famous old song:

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.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Visit his column blog at www.tinyurl.com/Column-Blog.

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