R Robert Burns

Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

‘Auld Lang Syne’ is a poem that addresses old acquaintances and the memories associated with them at the end of a year. It is a famous poem that is sung all across the world.

‘Auld Lang Syne’ is a poem in Scots-language written by the poet Robert Burns. It is a traditional folk song and well known in many English-speaking countries. Traditionally, the song is sung at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to bid adieu to the old year. Moreover, people also sing this song at funerals, graduations, and farewell to other occasions. In this poem, the poet upholds the value of friendship and brotherhood. The song is not about forgetting the past and welcoming the new. It’s more about valuing the old acquaintances and the memories associated with them.

Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

 

Summary of Auld Lang Syne

‘Auld Lang Syne’ by Robert Burns cherishes the old acquaintances and the memories associated with them at the end of a year.

In this poem, there are two persons. One is the speaker of the poem and another accompanies him while he sings the song. They are drinking together while the speaker reminds the other about the old days. He asks whether the old days should be forgotten. Thereafter, he says they can’t forget the past days. For the bond of friendship and togetherness, it is tough for the speaker to forget the relationship he has with his mate. They spent time together in the past by running about the hills, picking the fine daisies, and paddling in the stream. At last, the speaker tells his friend to take a “good-will draught” remembering the old memories.

 

Meaning

The title of the poem, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in standard English means “old long since”. It also means “long long ago”, “days gone by”, or “old times”. Whereas, the first line of the chorus, “For auld lang syne”, might be loosely translated as “for the sake of old times”. To be specific, the title of the poem refers to the old times and memories in which one finds inspiration to carry on. The poet makes a reader remind the friendship or relationship that started long ago.

 

Structure

It is a Scots-language song. Except for the first stanza of the poem, the rest of the stanzas are sung in chorus. The first stanza contains alternative rhyming lines and the rhyme scheme is ABAB. The rest of the stanzas are in ballad form. Thus these stanzas contain the ABCB rhyme scheme. Moreover, the overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. Whereas, the refrain used in the poem, “for auld lang syne” is in iambic dimeter. The rising rhythm of the lines is important concerning the overall mood of the poem.

 

Literary Devices

The poem, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ begins with a rhetorical question. The question used at the beginning reminds one of the old friendships. There is a metaphor in “cup of kindness”. Here, the poet compares the cup of wine to a cup filled with kindness. In the fourth stanza, there is a hyperbaton in “and pou’d the gowans fine”. This stanza contains another literary device in the following line. Here, “weary foot” contains personification. However, it’s also a use of synecdoche. In the roaring of the seas, the poet makes use of onomatopoeia. Here, the sea is metaphorical. However, the last chorus contains a repetition of the conjunction “and” for the sake of emphasis. This device is called anaphora.

 

Analysis of Auld Lang Syne

Stanza One

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne!

From the first stanza of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, it’s clear that there are two folks present in the poem. One is the speaker of the poem who talks with one of his old friends while drinking the “cup of kindness”. The poetic persona asks a heartwarming question to his companion. The poet also poses this question to the readers. Should one forget old acquaintances and never think about them? The question, is it possible? The answer is simply no! None can forget the memories which once warmed the heart and gave one inspiration to continue further. Hence, the poet emphasizes the importance of old friendships in the first stanza of the poem.

 

Stanza Two

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

     For auld lang syne.

     We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

     For auld lang syne.

The first chorus begins with a repetition of the Scots-phrase “For auld lang syne”. Here, this phrase means, “for the sake of old days”. However, the poet says they should drink again, together, remembering the old memories, past glories, and losses. The glorification of the old before diving headlong into the new is the major theme of the poem. In this chorus, the poet uses a metaphor of a “cup of kindness”. It refers to old memories.

 

Stanza Three

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 the third stanza of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the first two lines contain anaphora. Here, the phrase, “And surely” gets repeated for the sake of emphasis. However, the poet will surely take his cup and his friend will take his. And, they will drink together remembering the old days. Here, “pint stowp” means “pint cup” or simply a cup for drinking wine. Moreover, the poet repeats the metaphor, “cup of kindness” for highlighting the importance of the old memories. For the sake of those memories, the poet takes his sip from the glass of kindness.

 

Stanza Four

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.

In this chorus, the poetic persona recapitulates the old days when they were young, blazing like the sun, and brimming with energy. The use of the present perfect tense is important here. For the speaker, those memories are still fresh as if it has happened the day before. However, in the old times, they ran about the “braes” or hills and “pou’d” or picked the fine “gowans” or daisies. They have wandered throughout the day till his foot became weary of the journey. From the use of the refrain, one can understand that the poet is visualizing those days in his memory. He does it so often that it seems they had been running since the old days.

 

Stanza Five

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.

Thereafter, in the fifth stanza, the speaker reminds his friend how they paddled together in the “burn” or the stream from morning till the time of dinner. Those were good old days when nothing could stop the poet. The early years are always boundless like the river. Thereafter, as the days pass by, one becomes burdened with several responsibilities. Life hardens. If those memories aren’t there, one is nothing. It is those memories that the poet adores. However, the symbolic sea of life has broadened the distance between them. This sea can be a reference to one’s adulthood or family life.

 

Stanza Six

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,

For auld lang syne.

The last chorus of the song, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, begins with an anaphora. The speaker asks his friend for his trusty hand and stretches his before drinking their wine. He proposes a toast for the “good old days”. However, the poet refers to the “right gude-willie waught”. Here, “waught” means draught and according to the poet, it will bring goodwill in both of them. Moreover, there is a tautology in the usage of the synonymous “right” and “gude” in this line. It is again meant for the sake of emphasis.

 

Historical Context

There is an interesting story behind the publication of the song. After writing this song, Robert Burns sent the manuscript to the Scots Musical Museum 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.

Interestingly, some of the lyrics of the song were “collected” rather than composed. However, the ballad “Old Long Syne” printed in 1711 by James Watson. The printed version shows a similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burn’s later poem. It is derived from the same “old song”. However, it’s a mere assumption to attribute the rest of the verse to Robert Burns.

Moreover, the title of the poem, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, is also used in some other poems written by Robert Ayton, Allan Ramsay, and James Watson. In some older folk songs composed before Burns also contain this phrase. In his retelling of fairy tales in Scots-language, Matthew Fitt used the phrase, “in the old days of auld lang syne”. Here, “old lang syne” means “once upon a time”.

 

Similar Poetry

Like, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ written by Robert Burns, here is a list of a few poems that similarly hark the message of remembrance of the things past. The following poems can be read for further reference and understanding of the theme completely.

You can read about 10 of the Best Poems About Friendship here.

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Sudip Das Gupta
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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