Echoes of Time
By Robert Matsumura
As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve and the world steps forward into the New Year, the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” will inevitably reverberate across countless venues around the globe. Yet where did this classic song come from, and why do we sing it to celebrate the New Year?
Although “Auld Lang Syne” is traditionally associated with the New Year, the song is generally tied to endings and new beginnings and is also sung at graduations, funerals and events that call for reflection on the past. This Scottish song is attributed to Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet who collected and adapted the lyrics in the late 18th century. Burns, who is today known as the National Bard of Scotland, drew inspiration from an encounter with an old Scottish gentleman who sang a version of the song to him. Burns felt the song held cultural significance and decided to preserve and enhance it through the addition of poetic and lyrical elements that elevated the song from a mere folk tune to the poignant piece that has endured to this day.
Throughout the years, this traditional song has inspired arrangements and adaptations by numerous musical artists. “Auld Lang Syne,” however, became particularly associated with New Year’s Eve through the New Year’s Eve broadcasts of bandleader Guy Lombardo in 1929. The song is most often performed in 4/4 time, a moderate tempo that lends itself to communal singing.
As to the lyrics of the song, the title “Auld Lang Syne,’’ (Scottish) literally translates in English to “old long since,” or “days gone by.” The central theme of the song revolves around the remembrance of past relationships — friends, family and those dear to us — and honoring their memories. The song repeatedly poses the question, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”which highlights the significance of those important people in our lives who have shared our journey. The song concludes with the phrase, “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne,” which evokes recognition of the transience of life and the fleeting nature of time. In suggesting we “take a cup o’ kindness,” the lyrics embrace a spirit of goodwill as we move into the future, while simultaneously honoring the past and the “old acquaintances” we left behind.
So, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve and the poignant lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” are sung aloud amidst champagne and revelry, remember Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard, who preserved an old folk song of the people and crafted it into a poetic ballad that has endured for over a century. Despite the winds of change continually blowing through our lives, the shared sense of humanity embodied in this beloved song fosters a sense of unity, togetherness and the universal connection between our past, the people who have defined our lives and the future that lies before us.