Auld Lang Syne

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John Masey Wright and John Rogers' illustration of the poem, c. 1841 John Masey Wright - John Rogers - Robert Burns - Auld Lang Syne crop.jpg
John Masey Wright and John Rogers' illustration of the poem, c.1841

"Auld Lang Syne" (Scots pronunciation:  [ˈɔːl(d) lɑŋ ˈsəi̯n] ; note [s] rather than [z]) [1] is a popular song, particularly in the English-speaking world. Traditionally, it is sung to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve/Hogmanay. By extension, it is also often heard at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions; for instance, many branches of the Scouting movement use it to close jamborees and other functions. [2] [3]


The text is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 [4] [5] but based on an older Scottish folk song. In 1799, it was set to a traditional tune, which has since become standard. "Auld Lang Syne" is listed as numbers 6294 and 13892 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

The poem's Scots title may be translated into standard English as "old long since" or, less literally, "long long ago", [6] "days gone by", "times long past" or "old times". Consequently, "For auld lang syne", as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as "for the sake of old times".

The phrase "Auld Lang Syne" is also used in similar poems by Robert Ayton (1570–1638), Allan Ramsay (1686–1757), and James Watson (1711), as well as older folk songs predating Burns. [7]

In modern times, Matthew Fitt uses the phrase "in the days of auld lang syne" as the equivalent of "once upon a time" in his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language. [8]


Robert Burns PG 1063Burns Naysmith.jpg
Robert Burns

Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 with the remark, "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man." [9]

Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns's later poem, [7] and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song". To quote from the first stanza of the James Watson ballad:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.

It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself. [9]

The song originally had another melody, which can be traced to around 1700 and was deemed "mediocre" by Robert Burns. The first documented use of the melody commonly used today was in 1799, in the second volume of George Thomson's Select Songs of Scotland. The tune is a pentatonic Scots folk melody, which was probably originally a sprightly dance with a much quicker tempo. [10] There is some doubt as to whether this melody is the one Burns originally intended his version of the song to be sung to. [5] [11]

Auld Lang Syne

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.[ citation needed ]

Versions of "Auld Lang Syne" which use other lyrics and melodies have survived as folk songs in isolated Scottish communities. The American folk song collector James Madison Carpenter collected a version of the song from a man named William Still of Cuminestown, Aberdeenshire in the early 1930s, who can be heard singing the song on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website. [12]


The song begins by posing a rhetorical question: Is it right that old times be forgotten? The answer is generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships. [10] Alternatively, "Should" may be understood to mean "if" (expressing the conditional mood) referring to a possible event or situation.

George Thomson's Select Songs of Scotland was published in 1799 in which the second verse about greeting and toasting was moved to its present position at the end. [10]

Most common usage of the song involves only the first verse and the chorus. The last lines of both of these are often sung with the extra words "For the sake of" or "And days of", rather than Burns's simpler lines. This makes the song strictly syllabic, with just one note per syllable.

Burns's original Scots verse [6] Standard English version
Scots pronunciation guide
(as Scots speakers would sound)
IPA pronunciation guide
(Burns's own Ayrshire dialect) [13]

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne? [lower-alpha 1]

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-stoup!
and surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


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.


We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine; [lower-alpha 2]
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
sin' auld lang syne.


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


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

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.


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


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


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.


Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an nivir brocht [lower-alpha 3] ti mynd?
Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an ald lang syn*?

Fir ald lang syn, ma jo,
fir ald lang syn,
wil tak a cup o kyndnes yet,
fir ald lang syn.

An sheerly yil bee yur pynt-staup!
an sheerly al bee myn!
An will tak a cup o kyndnes yet,
fir ald lang syn.


We twa hay rin aboot the braes,
an pood the gowans fyn;
Bit weev wandert monae a weery fet,
sin ald lang syn.


We twa hay pedilt in the burn,
fray mornin sun til dyn;
But seas between us bred hay roard
sin ald lang syn.


An thers a han, my trustee feer!
an gees a han o thyn!
And we'll tak a richt [lower-alpha 3] gude-willie-waucht, [lower-alpha 3]
fir ald lang syn.


ʃɪd o̜ːld ə.kwɛn.təns bi fər.ɡot
ən nɪ.vər brɔxt tɪ məin
ʃɪd o̜ːld ə.kwɛn.təns bi fər.ɡot
ən o̜ːld lɑŋ səin

fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin mɑ d͡ʒo
fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin
wiːl tɑk ə kʌp o kəin.nəs jɛt
fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin

ən ʃeː jiːl bi juːr pəint.stʌup
ən ʃeː ɑːl bi məin
ən wiːl tɑk ə kʌp o kəin.nəs jɛt
fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin


wi two̜̜ː heː rɪn ə.but ðə breːz
ən puːd ðə ɡʌu.ənz fəin
bʌt wiːv wo̜n.ərt mʌ.ne ə wiːrɪ fɪt
sɪn o̜ːld lɑŋ səin


wi two̜̜ː heː pe.dlt ɪn ðə bʌrn
freː moːr.nɪn sɪn tɪl dəin
bʌt siːz ə.twin ʌs bred heː roːrd
sɪn o̜ːld lɑŋ səin


ən ðeːrz ə ho̜ːn mɑ trʌs.tɪ fiːr
əŋ ɡiːz ə ho̜ːn o ðəin
ən wiːl tɑk ə rɪxt ɡɪd wʌ.lɪ wɑːxt
fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin


  1. Scots "lang syne" (close cognate with standard English "long since". Variations are 'Syn', and 'Sin', all being contracted forms of 'Sithen'). Properly pronounced with a hard "S" (like "sign") rather than the soft "Z" sound usually sung.
  2. dine = "dinner time"
  3. 1 2 3 ch = voiceless velar fricative, /x/, at the back of the mouth like /k/; similar to "Bach" in German

Settings and quotations of the melody

William Shield (1748-1829) William Shield .png
William Shield (1748–1829)

English composer William Shield seems to quote the "Auld Lang Syne" melody briefly at the end of the overture to his opera Rosina (1782), which may be its first recorded use. The contention that Burns borrowed the melody from Shield is for various reasons highly unlikely, although they may very well both have taken it from a common source, possibly a strathspey called "The Miller's Wedding" or "The Miller's Daughter". [14] The problem is that tunes based on the same set of dance steps necessarily have a similar rhythm, and even a superficial resemblance in melodic shape may cause a very strong apparent similarity in the tune as a whole. For instance, Burns' poem "Comin' Thro' the Rye" is sung to a tune that might also be based on the "Miller's Wedding". The origin of the tune of "God Save the King" presents a very similar problem and for just the same reason, as it is also based on a dance measure. [15] (See the note in the William Shield article on this subject.)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Beethoven.jpg
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

In 1792, the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn arranged Auld Lang Syne as one of over 400 Scottish folk song arrangements commissioned by George Thomson and the publishers William Napier and William Whyte; [16] his arrangement may have helped popularise the song. [17] Ludwig van Beethoven also wrote an arrangement of Auld Lang Syne (WoO 156/11) published as part of his 12 Scottish Folksongs (1814). Both of these classical versions use the original brisk strathspey rhythm.

In 1855, different words were written for the Auld Lang Syne tune by Albert Laighton and titled, "Song of the Old Folks". This song was included in the tunebook, Father Kemp's Old Folks Concert Tunes published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1860. [18] For many years it was the tradition of the Stoughton Musical Society to sing this version in memory of those who had died that year.

Songwriter George M. Cohan quotes the first line of the "Auld Lang Syne" melody in the second to last line of the chorus of “You're a Grand Old Flag”. It is plain from the lyrics that this is deliberate; the melody is identical except the first syllable of the word "forgot".

John Philip Sousa quotes the melody in the Trio section of his 1924 march "Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company".

English composer of light music Ernest Tomlinson wrote a Fantasia on Auld Lang Syne (1976), which in its 20 minutes weaves in 152 quotations from pieces by other popular and classical composers. [19]

In the Sacred Harp choral tradition, an arrangement of it exists under the name "Plenary". The lyrics are a memento mori and begin with the words "Hark! from the tomb a doleful sound". Another Christian setting, using the name "Fair Haven" for the same tune, uses the text "Hail! Sweetest, Dearest Tie That Binds" by Amos Sutton. [20] In a similar vein, in 1999 Cliff Richard released a setting of the Lord's prayer (as "The Millennium Prayer") to the melody. [21]

British soldiers in World War I trenches sang "We're Here Because We're Here" to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". [22]

When sung

Fireworks at Edinburgh's Hogmanay EdinburghNYE.jpg
Fireworks at Edinburgh's Hogmanay

At New Year

"Auld Lang Syne" is traditionally sung at the conclusion of New Year gatherings in Scotland and around the world, especially in English-speaking countries.

At Hogmanay in Scotland, it is common practice that everyone joins hands with the person next to them to form a great circle around the dance floor. At the beginning of the last verse (And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!/and gie's a hand o' thine!), everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa. [23] [24] When the tune ends, everyone rushes to the middle, while still holding hands. When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outwards with hands still joined. The tradition of singing the song when parting, with crossed hands linked, arose in the mid-19th century among Freemasons and other fraternal organisations. [25] [26]

Outside Scotland the hands are often crossed from the beginning of the song, at variance with Scottish custom. The Scottish practice was demonstrated by Queen Elizabeth II at the Millennium Dome celebrations for the year 2000. Some press outlets berated her for not "properly" crossing her arms, unaware that she was correctly following the Scottish tradition. [27] [28]

At other times

As well as celebrating the New Year, "Auld Lang Syne" is very widely used to symbolise other "endings/new beginnings" – including farewells, funerals (and other memorials of the dead), graduations, the end of a (non-New Year) party, jamborees of the Scout Movement, the election of a new government, the last lowering of the Union Jack as a British colony achieves independence [29] and even as a signal that a retail store is about to close for the day. The melody is also widely used for other words, especially hymns, the songs of sporting and other clubs, and even national anthems (South Korea in the 1940s, and the Maldives until 1972). In Scotland and other parts of Britain, in particular, it is associated with celebrations and memorials of Robert Burns. The following list of specific uses is far from comprehensive. [30] [31] [2]

In the English-speaking world

Scottish ceilidh Description- Visitors try Scottish ceilidh dancing at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. (2548929276).jpg
Scottish cèilidh

In non-English-speaking countries

"Auld Lang Syne" has been translated into many languages, and the song is widely sung all over the world. The song's pentatonic scale matches scales used in Korea, Japan, India, China and other Asian countries, which has facilitated its adoption in the East. The following list of particular examples details things that are special or unusual about the use of the song in a particular country, and is (necessarily) not comprehensive.

National anthem of South Korea from 1945 to 1948
  • In Denmark, the song was translated in 1927 by the Danish poet Jeppe Aakjær. Much like Robert Burns' use of dialect, Aakjær translated the song into Sallingbomål, a form of the Jutlandic dialect. The song "Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo" is an integral part of the Danish Højskole tradition, and often associated with more rural areas and old traditions.
  • In the Netherlands, the melody is used as the Dutch football song " Wij houden van Oranje " ("We Love Orange"), performed by André Hazes.
  • In West Bengal and Bangladesh, the melody was the direct inspiration for the Bengali folk song "Purano shei diner kotha" ("Memories of the Good Old Days"), composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, [33] [34] and forms one of the more recognisable tunes in Rabindra Sangeet ("Rabindra's Songs"), a body of work of 2,230 songs and lyrical poems that form the backbone of Bengali music.
  • In Thailand, the song "Samakkhi Chumnum" (สามัคคีชุมนุม, 'together in unity') is set to the same melody. It is mainly sung after sporting fixtures and at the end of Boy Scout jamborees. The Thai lyrics are a patriotic song about the King and national unity, and many Thais are not aware of the song's Western origin. [35]
  • In Japan, the melody is used for the song "Hotaru no Hikari" (The Light of the Fireflies), which has different lyrics. "Hotaru no Hikari" is played at many school graduation ceremonies, and at the end of the New Year's Eve show NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen . It is played in various establishments such as bars, restaurants, or department stores in Japan to let the customers know that the establishment is closing soon. [36]
  • In Korea, the song is known as "Jakbyeol" (작별, Farewell) or (less commonly) as "Seokbyeol-ui Jeong" (석별의 정, The Feeling of Farewell). From 1919 to 1945 it served as the national anthem of the Korean exile government and from 1945 to 1948, it was the melody of Korea's national anthem. The lyrics used then were the same as the current South Korean national anthem. [37]
  • Before 1972, it was the tune for the anthem of the Maldives (with the current words).

Use in films

The strong and obvious associations of the song and its melody have made it a common staple for film soundtracks from the very early days of "talking" pictures to the present—a large number of films and television series' episodes having used it for background, generally but by no means exclusively to evoke the New Year.

Notable performances

Frank C. Stanley (1868-1910) FrankCStanley - restored.jpg
Frank C. Stanley (1868–1910)


The first recording of the song was made on wax cylinder in 1898 by the Englishmen Charles Samuel Myers and Alfred Cort Hadden, who sang it in a demonstration of the new technology whilst on an expedition to record Aboriginal Australian music with figures including Charles Seligman, W. H. R Rivers and Sidney Herbert Ray. The original 1898 recording can be heard online via the British Library Sound Archive website. [38]

As a standard in music, "Auld Lang Syne" has since been recorded many times, in every conceivable style, by many artists, both well-known and obscure. The first commercial recording was probably that of Frank C Stanley, who recorded the song in 1910 (which can be heard above). In late 1999, an instrumental rendition by American saxophonist Kenny G reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 upon release as a single. At the time of charting it was the oldest-written song to make the Hot 100 charts. [39]

Live and broadcast

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