Auld Lang Syne
is a Scottish
poem written by Robert Burns in 1788
and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known
in many English-speaking countries and is often sung to
celebrate the start of the new year at the stroke of midnight at
the start of New Year's Day.
The song's Scots title may be
translated into English literally as "old long since", or more
idiomatically, "long long ago" or "days gone by". 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.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
Robert Burns sent a copy of the
original song 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".
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' later poem. It is a fair supposition to
attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.
some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one
Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in
Scotland and in the rest of the world.
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 (and other Britons) emigrated around the
world, they took the song with them.
Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with
popularizing the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in
America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and television,
beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark. In addition to
his live broadcasts, Lombardo recorded the song more than once.
His first recording was in 1939. A later recording on September
29, 1947 was issued as a single by Decca Records.
The tune to which "Auld Lang Syne"
is now universally sung is a pentatonic Scots folk melody,
probably originally a sprightly dance in a much quicker tempo.
English composer William Shield
seems to quote the "Auld Lang Syne" melody briefly at the end of
the overture to his opera
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 Daughter.
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
Coming Through the Rye
is sung to a tune that might also be based on the
The origin of the tune of
God Save the Queen
presents a very similar problem, and for just the same reason,
as it is also based on a dance measure.
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
It is plain from the lyrics that this is deliberate.