Brit Language: Auld Lang Syne in Translation

I love movies! Movies often remind us of the special events in our own lives. What woman hasn’t dreamt of a magnificent marriage proposal with a cinematic ending?  Remember that oh-so romantic and highly memorable scene in When Harry Met Sally as Harry professes his love, the band begins to play “Auld Lang Syne”, and Harry remarks:

“What does this song mean? For my whole life I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot”. Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances or does it mean if we happen to forget them we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them!?”

Sally replies: “Well may be it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway it’s about old friends.”

I think that’s how most people feel about “Auld Lang Syne”. We sing it, pretend to mouth the words. New Years Eve wouldn’t be the same without it, like the requisite hangover expected on New Years Day, you know everyone will be singing “Auld lang Syne”. But what does the title mean and what is the origin of the song? The title translates as ‘old long since’ or ‘for old time’s sake’. “Widely believed to be composed by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, Burns denied writing it saying, “ “I took it down from an old man” but it “thrilled thro’ my soul.” He recognized the power of the song, revitalized it, and gave it his own special touch.

“Most experts think that “Auld Lang Syne” was created by Burns in 1788 using elements from a variety of source materials. These could date as far back as the 16th century and include works by the Scots poets Allan Ramsay, Robert Ayton and James Watson.”

Another version of the song with the lyric we know so well is attributed to courtly poet Sir Robert Ayton (1570-1638).

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never thought upon

The flames of love extinguished

And freely past and gone?

Is thy kind heart now grown so cold

In that loving breast of thine

That thou canst never once reflect

On old-long-syne

The song became popular in Scotland for Hogmanay and spread through the British Isles and around the world as people emigrated taking the song with them. It was popularized in America by the band leader Guy Lombardo through his radio and television broadcasts.

If you want to sing it, here’s the song in translation:

Long, Long Ago

Should old acquaintance be forgot And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear

For long, long ago,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago

And surely you’ll buy your pint-jug!

And surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For long, long ago.

Sing it loud with a lusty voice, think about old friends and new. Kiss a few and if you have time, screen this classic romance about old friends. That’s a pretty good way to begin a new year.


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