Auld Lang Syne

John Masey Wright and John Rogers' illustration of the poem, c. 1841

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

The text is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1788[3][4] but based on an older Scottish folk song. In 1799, it was set to another 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",[5] "days gone by", 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.[6] 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.[7]



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."[8] 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,[6] 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.[8]

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world.[4][9]

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.


\relative c' { \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"bagpipe" \key f \major \time 4/4 \partial 4 c4 | f4. f8 f4 a4 | g4. f8 g4 a4 | f4. f8 a4 c4 | d2. d4 | c4. a8 a4 f4 | g4. f8 g4 a4 | f4.( d8) d4( c4) | f2. d'4 | c4.( a8) a4( f4) | g4. f8 g4 d'4 | c4.( a8) a4( c4) | d2. d4 | c4. a8 a4 f4 | g4. f8 g4 a4 | f4.( d8) d4( c4) | f2. \bar "|." } \addlyrics { Should auld ac -- quain -- tance be for -- got and ne -- ver brought to mind?  Should auld ac -- quain -- tance be for -- got and auld lang syne? 
For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne. We'll tak a cup o' kind -- ness yet for auld lang syne }

The tune to which "Auld Lang Syne" is commonly sung is a pentatonic Scots folk melody, probably originally a sprightly dance in a much quicker tempo. The song originally had another melody, which can be traced to around 1700 and was deemed "mediocre" by Robert Burns. The famous melody was first used in 1799, in the second volume of George Thomson's Select Songs of Scotland.[10]

Older versions of the original song which use other melodies have survived in isolated Scottish communities. The American folk song collector James Madison Carpenter collected a version of "Auld Lang Syne" which appears to be distantly related to the original folk song version from a man named William Still of Cuminestown, Aberdeenshire in the early 1930s. William Still can be heard singing the song on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website.[11]


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 "in the event that" (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' simpler lines. This allows one note for each word, rather than the slight melisma required to fit Burns' original words to the melody.

The "singable" English version given here keeps the Scots phrase "auld lang syne" rather than translating it as "long long ago" or something like that — see the third paragraph of this article for a full explanation of this phrase.

Burns' original Scots verse[5] Standard English version
Scots pronunciation guide
(as Scots speakers would sound)
IPA pronunciation guide
(Burns' own Ayrshire dialect)[12]

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?[a]


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;[b]
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[c] 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[c] gude-willie-waucht,[c]
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. ^ syne = "since" or "then" – pronounced like "sign" rather than "zine"
  2. ^ dine = "dinner time"
  3. ^ a b c 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)

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".[13] 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 Queen" presents a very similar problem and for just the same reason, as it is also based on a dance measure.[14] (See the note in the William Shield article on this subject.)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

In 1792, the renowned 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;[15] his arrangement may have helped popularise the song.[16] Ludwig van Beethoven then wrote an arrangement of Auld Lang Syne (WoO 156/11) published as part of his 12 Scottish Folksongs (1814). Both of these classical versions used 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] The melody can also be used to sing "All Glory be to Christ",[20] (Lyrics by Dustin Kensrue as performed by the group Kings Kaleidoscope). In a similar vein, in 1999 Cliff Richard released a setting of the Lord's prayer (as "The Millennium Prayer") to the familiar melody.[21]

The University of Virginia's alma mater ("The Good Old Song") is sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne".

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

This tune was used briefly in the 1930 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Chain Gang.[23]

Since 2007, the melody has been used as an introduction to the mass chorus of "America the Beautiful" that is played by the twelve finalist corps at the Finals Retreat at the Drum Corps International World Championships. "Auld Lang Syne" and "America the Beautiful" have the same (very common) metre, so that the lyrics can be sung interchangeably.

Practical uses

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, everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa.[24][25] 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.

In countries other than 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.[26][27]

Other than New Year

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[28] 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 such as that of South Korea in the 1940s. 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.[29][30][2]

Scottish cèilidh

In the English-speaking world

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 East Asian countries, which has facilitated its "nationalisation" in the East. The following particular examples mostly detail things that are special or unusual about the use of the song in a particular country.

  • 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,[32][33] 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, and used in similar contexts to other countries. The Thai lyrics are a patriotic song about the King and national unity, so that many Thais are not aware of the song's "Western" origin.[34]
  • In Japan, the melody is used for the song "Hotaru no Hikari", 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 as background music in various establishments such as bars, restaurants, or department stores in Japan to let the customers know that the establishment is closing soon.[citation needed]
  • In South 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 South Korea's national anthem. The lyrics used then were the same as the current South Korean national anthem.[citation needed]
  • Before 1972, it was the tune for the anthem of the Maldives (with the current words).[citation needed]

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)


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.[35]

The first commercial recording was probably that of Frank C Stanley, who recorded the song in 1907. (This recording can be heard above)

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.

Live and broadcast

  • 1939: Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performed it on New Year's Eve for decades until his death in 1977. Several sources credit Lombardo with "popularising" the use of the song, at least in the United States. Lombardo's 1947 Decca Records version is played in Times Square every New Year's immediately following the dropping of the ball.[36]
  • 1997: On 30 June, the day before Hong Kong was handed over from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China, the tune was played by the silver and pipe bands from the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, at the departure of Hong Kong's 28th and last British Governor, Chris Patten, from his official residence, Government House, Hong Kong[37]
  • 2009: On 30 November – St. Andrew's Day – students and staff at the University of Glasgow sang the song in 41 languages simultaneously[38]
  • 2015: On 6 April, the song was performed by a bagpiper at the Istana as a form of respect to the late Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew during his State Funeral.
  • 2020: On 29 January, the song was sung by members of the European Parliament when the Brexit withdrawal agreement was passed ending the UK's membership of the European Union set for 31 January 2020.[39]


  1. ^ Rennie, Susan (ed.). "Lang Syne". Dictionary of the Scots Language. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Honeck, Mischa (2018). Our Frontier Is the World: The Boy Scouts in the Age of American Ascendancy. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 103. ISBN 9781501716201 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "Robert Burns – Auld Lang Syne". BBC. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  4. ^ a b "The History and Words of Auld Lang Syne". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b Burns, Robert (1947) [Transcribed 1788]. Maine, George Frederick (ed.). Songs from Robert Burns 1759–1796 (leather-bound sextodecimo). Collins Greetings Booklets (in English and Scots). Glasgow: Collins Clear-Type Press. pp. 47–48. This book was purchased at Burns Cottage, and was reprinted in 1967, and 1973.
  6. ^ a b "". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  7. ^ Higgins, Bernie; Vaughan, David (28 November 2004). "'Wee Reid Ridin Hood': Matthew Fitt and His Scots Fairy Tales in Deepest Bohemia". Radio Prague. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  8. ^ a b Lindsay, Maurice (December 1996) [1959]. "Auld Lang Syne". The Burns Encyclopedia (New Third ed.). Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7090-5719-9. Archived from the original on 23 June 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  9. ^ Traditional (2006). "Auld Lang Syne". Traditional Songs from Scotland. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Electric Scotland history site". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  11. ^ "For Auld Lang Syne (VWML Song Index SN19469)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  12. ^ Wilson, James (1923). The dialect of Robert Burns as spoken in central Ayrshire. Oxford University Press. pp. 11–13, 146–148 – via
  13. ^ "A Caledonian country dance". Morgan Library & Museum. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  14. ^ Scholes, Percy A. The Oxford Companion to Music (Tenth ed.). Oxford University Press.
  15. ^ "Folksong Arrangements by Haydn / Folksong Arrangements by Haydn and Beethoven / Programmes / Home - Trio van Beethoven". Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Auld Lang Syne packaged by Joseph Haydn". Interlude. 29 December 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  17. ^ "Father Kemp and Auld Lang Syne". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  18. ^ "Music Monday: Fantasia on Auld Lang Syne". Philharmonic Society of Orange County. 29 December 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Hail! Sweetest, Dearest Tie That Binds;". Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  20. ^ "Sing "All Glory Be to Christ" to the Tune of "Auld Lang Syne"".
  21. ^ Burden, Ralph. "Cliff Richard - The Miracle of the Millennium Prayer". Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  22. ^ Cremer, Clyde (2014). The Life and Times of a World War I Soldier: The Julius Holthaus Story. Bloomington: iUniverseLLC. p. 292. ISBN 978-1-4917-2979-3.
  23. ^ Grob, Gijs (2018). "The Chain Gang". Mickey's Movies: The Theatrical Films of Mickey Mouse. Theme Park Press. ISBN 978-1683901235.
  24. ^ Christmas in Scotland: Christmas Around the World. Vol. 11. World Book, Incorporated. 2001. p. 37. |volume= has extra text (help)
  25. ^ Logan, James (1831). The Scottish Gaël; Or, Celtic Manners, as Preserved Among the Highlanders: Being an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Inhabitants, Antiquities, and National Peculiarities of Scotland : More Particularly of the Northern, Or Gäelic Parts of the Country, where the Singular Habits of the Aboriginal Celts are Most Tenaciously Retained. Vol. 2. Smith Elder. p. 253. Retrieved 30 December 2015 – via |volume= has extra text (help)
  26. ^ Aslet, Clive (13 July 2007). "One doesn't do tantrums and tiaras". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  27. ^ "Queen stays at arm's length (This Is Lancashire)". Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  28. ^ Handover of Hong Kong 1997, "Auld Lang Syne", originally broadcast 30 June 1997 on YouTube
  29. ^ a b Bracken, Canor (13 September 2013). "Auld Lang Syne a Sincere Tradition". Gulf Coast.
  30. ^ a b Brocklehurst, Steven (31 December 2013). "How Auld Lang Syne took over the world". BBC Scotland.
  31. ^ National Defence Academy Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  32. ^ "Bengali Traditional Folk Music – Various Artists – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic".
  33. ^ "Bengali Folk Songs". Archived from the original on 25 March 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  34. ^ Kennedy, Paul T.; Danks, Catherine J., eds. (2001). Globalization and National Identities: Crisis or Opportunity?. Springer. p. 109. ISBN 9780333985458 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ "Auld Lang Syne - Ethnographic wax cylinders - World and traditional music | British Library - Sounds". Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  36. ^ "Guy Lombardo > Biography (All Music Guide)".
  37. ^ "'The Governor's Last Farewell'". BBC News. 1997. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  38. ^ "'New record' for Auld Lang Syne". BBC News. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  39. ^ "Brexit: European Parliament overwhelmingly backs terms of UK's exit". BBC News. 29 January 2020. Retrieved 29 January 2020.

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