Monday, January 3, 2011

The meaning of Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne

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

(Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) transcribed this now traditional New Years Day verse, having heard an old Scottish gentleman recite the lines. Burns admits to adding two lines to the poem. They are the third and fourth stanzas that reference time spent upon the braes and in the burns, or, as we would say, hillsides and streams.)

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(It is for the reader to decide who is drinking, childhood sweethearts or bosom buddies? These days it doesn't matter for friendship knows no gender.

If you didn't already know it, a 'cup o' kindness' is a drink. )

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.

(In a Scottish pub, drinks were poured from kegs with pint tankards the standard measure of drink. The stowp was another name for a tankard, or what we might call a 'mug'. Here, each friend buys ('be', the 'e' is long and rhymes with 'ye') their own pint and toasts with a 'cup of kindness'.

This line is the most enigmatic of the poem, for traditional hospitality demands that a friend buy the others drink. My take on this is that the poet suggests that real friends do everything 'even-steven'. True friendship is not a debt of gratitude, but a bonding of souls.)

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

(A gowan is a wild flower. 'Pu’d the gowans fine' romantically suggests 'plucking' or more appropriately 'courting' the fine young ladies upon the Scottish hillsides. Of course, it may also mean that the two were picking flowers.)

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.

('Paidl’d in the burn' translates as paddling in the stream, something, as a youth, was playfully done from early morning til the setting of the sun. Time and the broad seas have risen and roared, separating childhood friends. Interestingly, Robert Burns himself once thought crossing the 'braid' sea and emigrating to America.)

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gies a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

(The word 'fiere' comes by way of the French, suggesting a brave and proud compatriot. So, give me a hand my trusty friend and together we'll take a good drought of ale for the sake of olden times.)

Robert Burns is considered the national poet of Scotland. You can read his complete works by going to Robert Burns Country.

No comments:

Post a Comment