December 6, 2023

Auld Lang Syne


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Auld Lang Syne

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – In 1788 the renowned Scottish poet, Robert Burns, compiled, altered, and added lyrics to create Auld Lang Syne and set it to a traditional tune. In time, the tune we know today was substituted for the original, but the words written in Burns’ original Scottish vernacular remained to puzzle New Year’s Eve revelers ever since.

In the 1989 film, “When Harry Met Sally,” Billy Crystal’s character, Harry, asks the question, “My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. It means ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot.’ Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances or does it mean that if we should happen to forget them, we should remember them which is not possible because we already forgot?”

Sally (Meg Ryan) responds: “Well maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

Harry could have begun with the even more perplexing question: What does “Auld Lang Syne” mean? The literal translation is” Old Long Since,” but the art of translation is to convey original meaning, which cannot always be accomplished by a word-for-word substitution. This becomes even more complex in the instance of poetic song lyrics, which is why interpretations such as “Old Long Ago” or “Long, Long Ago” or “Times Long Ago” fail. The phrase “Times Gone by” comes the closest, but only succeeds when accompanied by the addition of “Days of.” Interestingly, purists object to the use of “Days of,” a phrase that is commonly attached to modern versions to create “Days of Auld Lang Syne” that is even more compelling in the translation, “Days of Times Gone By,” which is clearly what Burns had in mind.

And by substituting “Days of Times Gone By” for “Auld Lang Syne” strictly for interpretation purposes, not only is the title clarified, so is Harry’s conundrum because the question, “Should old acquaintance be for forgot, and never brought to mind?” is clearly rhetorical. The Great Scot is simply imploring us not to forget. Sally got it right. It’s about old friends.

                           Auld Lang Syne

                     (Days of Times Gone By)

          Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And days of times gone by?

          And for days of times gone by, my dear
For days of times gone by,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For days of times gone by.


          And surely you’ll buy your pint-jug!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For days of times gone by.

          We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many’s the weary foot
For days of times gone by.


          We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
For days of times gone by.


          And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will
For days of times gone by.

          © 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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