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AULD LANG SYNE  — by Robert Burns

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Although this page is primarily devoted to the song, Auld Lang Syne, there is also some information given on the author, Robert Burns, Burns’ Suppers and Haggis.

The Music 
The Words (Lyrics)

The Poet

Burns’ Suppers
Haggis

Auld Lang Syne is pronounced:  Awl-d  Lang  Sign.   North Americans tend to pronounce Syne as if it began with a 'Z'; it begins with an 'S'. So... don't say Zyne, say Syne.

 

GUESTBOOK

Please let me know if you found the information you were seeking. If you didn’t I would like to know what you were looking for. Please sign my GuestBook and tell me, then I can improve my page!

As you may have noticed, this is primarily a bagpipe web-site, but I am a Scot: Burns and his poetry has a certain importance to me and so I developed this page....

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The Music

Since this is a bagpipe-related web-site, the music is written as it would be played on the bagpipe.

The bagpipe has only nine notes (how hard can it be to play?) – Auld Lang Syne actually goes beyond the range of the bagpipe. The phrase ending, F#-F#-E-(A) at the end of the second and fourth lines, should be an octave lower - the bagpipe can't play those low F# and E notes, so we substitute with the same notes but an octave higher.

If you want the tune on a web-page by itself, for printing, click here.

One source lists the above tune as an old strathspey tune, found in Bremner’s Collection (about 1757). The music which Burns composed for this song was rejected by his publisher, and Burns then submitted an existing tune. Burns’ Auld Lang Syne was not published until 1796, after Burns’ death.

Just in case your web browser is not playing the tune, Auld Lang Syne, click here and it should play.

If you want to hear Burns’ original music, click here. By the way, if you have a music score for this tune, I'd love to receive a copy.

If you want more bagpipe music (.bww, .mid and some .jpg files), then click here.

The Words (Lyrics)

If you want the lyrics on a web-page by themselves, for printing, click here.

translation

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
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 guid willie-waught
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!

Times Long Gone

Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago !

Chorus:
For old long ago, my dear
For old long ago,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago.

We two have run about the hillsides
And pulled the daisies fine,
But we have wandered many a weary foot
For old long ago.

We two have paddled (waded) in the stream
From noon until dinner time,
But seas between us broad have roared
Since old long ago.

And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill draught (of ale)
For old long ago!

And surely you will pay for your pint,
And surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago!

In a note to George Thomson in 1793, Burns describes Auld Lang Syne: “The air is but mediocre; but the song of itself – the 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’s singing – is enough to recommend any air.” Part of the song is older than Burns but Burns did take credit for at least the two verses beginning, “We twa hae ran...” and “We twa had paidl't....”

The Poet

Rabbie Burns
b. Jan 25, 1759
d. July 21, 1796

 

Robert Burns – A Short Biography

Robert Burns, or Rabbie as he was known, was the son of a farmer, born in Alloway, Ayrshire, in the southwest of Scotland on January 25, 1759. He worked at several trades prior to turning to publishing his poetry as a source of income: first as a farmer which damaged his health and then as a flax weaver. He failed at both. He began writing poetry in 1784 and his first collection of poems The Kilmarnock edition (named for the city of publication), was published in 1786. In 1788, he began working as a tax collector while continuing to write poetry; he also collected, revised, and wrote folk songs. He married Jean Armour, the mother of one of his many illegitimate children, and eventually died on July 21, 1796, aged 37, the same day as his last child was born..

He is famous for his poetry and his songs, some of which are: Auld Lang Syne; Comin Thro the Rye; Sweet Afton; Scots Wha Hae; Green Grow the Rashes; and A Red, Red, Rose. In addition there is The Selkirk Grace – a grace before meals and Address to a Haggis, both of which are used at Burns Suppers – Burns Night celebrations held around the anniversary of his birth in Scottish communities worldwide.

Robert Burns – A Longer Biography

Robert Burns was born to William Burnes and Agnes Brown on January 25, 1759 in Alloway (2 km south of Ayr). He was the eldest of seven children raised in a humble farm setting with a father who admired education and worked hard to hire the best education for his children. William recognized Robert’s giftedness and often extended himself to get Robert educational opportunities to foster these strengths. His mother was a modest woman who instilled in him a love for music – especially Scottish ballads. Robert was educated in Latin, Greek, French and trigonometry (mathematics was a lifelong interest). He was afforded the best education his family could muster and he took every advantage of it. It is said that he often took a book with him into the fields so he could read on the few breaks in the chores a farmer’s son might have.

As the Burns family grew, the small cottage was outgrown so William rented farmland and tried to grow flax for the linen industry. The soil was poor and farming life proved difficult. At fifteen, Robert Bums was the principle labourer on the family farm and experiencing symptoms of poor health. At about this time he met his first sweet heart, Nelly Kirkpatrick, who inspired his first song O, Once I Lov’d a Bonnie Lass. He matched the lyrics to a reel Nelly liked to sing (he later admitted it wasn’t his best work). In 1773, it is though that Robert wrote his first poem, Handsome Nell for Nellie Kilpatrick.

The family moved to a farm in Lochlea in 1777 and continued in the agricultural business. Burns became involved in the Tarbolton’s Bachelors Club (a debating club) and the Freemasons. These social contacts encouraged and financially backed him in publishing his works when he was contemplating leaving for the West Indies because his financial and health conditions were poor. The first publication, The Kilmarnock Volume yielded him 20 pounds.

In 1781, he worked in Irvine as a flax dresser for seven months. He became ill with pleurisy and his belongings were lost to a fire in his home. His father’s ill health called him back to Lochlea where William Burnes died in 1784. On his father’s death, his brother and he rented the family farm and tried to make a go as flax farmers.

Romance began to produce more fruit than the farm for Burns. He is well known for his fertile loins, producing twelve children with four women. He finally married Jean Armour after a less than cordial relationship with her father, who threatened Burns with legal action after two pairs of twins with Jean before marriage. In the interim, he met Mary Campbell, “Highland Mary,” and considered eloping and moving to the West Indies again. Mary died in 1786.

The Kilmarnock Volume gained literary and popular success in its second publication. Burns became a recognized poet in wide circles. This fame softened the feelings Jean Armour’s father had for Burns and he eventually allowed the marriage.

Being a new literary sensation, Burns set out for Edinburgh on a rented pony to find a patron. He worked the social scene and played up the “ploughboy poet” persona and arranged for a second volume. This happened during the very political Scottish Enlightenment era. The book, The Edinburgh Volume, was a best seller in 1787.

Burns was introduced to the Crochallan Fencibles, a drinking club, and in that atmosphere is thought to have been a major contributor to The Merry Muses of Caledonia  – a collection of drinking songs!

Despite his success, he found no patron in Edinburgh. After a summer of travel with friends, he set to work on a collection of Scottish folk songs, The Scots Musical Museum. He strived to keep the tunes alive by putting lyrics to the tunes. There were six volumes in all including Auld Lang Syne, Scots Wha Ha’e, O My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose and 160 others.

Jean Armour and Burns were married in 1788 in Mauchline. At this time, he tried his hand at farming again in the Dumfries area. Here he wrote such works as To Mary in Heaven and Tam O’Shanter. He also continued to work on his collection of Scottish folk songs for The Scots Musical Museum. The farm was not a financial success and he left with his family in 1791.

Burns was appointed an excise officer in Dumfries in 1789 and held the post until his death. As export taxes had been introduced by Edward I, smuggling had become a very big problem. The excise officer was to ride up and down the shore inspecting ships and stores looking for smuggled contraband. He gave up the 3‑pound yearly wage as a farmer for a 50‑pound wage with a 50‑pound bonus and half of the smuggled goods. The life of an excise man was tough – lots of miles on a horse and very few admirers.

Jean Armour commented that during these years Burns always had a book with him. Evenings were spent with him reading or writing while the children played about his feet. He dined at two o’clock with a book on the table and enjoyed plain foods. He hated tarts, pies and puddings. He often slept in late. The family worshipped at St Michael’s Church. This was the routine while he was at home; on the road, it was a different life! When not at home he enjoyed the drink and company one might find at the Globe or Hole In the Wall (Queensbury Square).

George Thomson a Fife‑born music publisher enlisted Burns to write lyrics for 114 songs and he commissioned many of the leading European composers, including Haydn and Beethoven, to set many of these poems to music. Burns was working on this collection up until his death. Unfortunately, it was not a financial success.

Burns was an advocate for the common man and the equality of all. During the French Revolution, he was outspoken in his support for the cause. It is rumoured that he purchased cannons from the smuggler’s vessel, Rosamond and sent them to the revolutionaries of France. The act cannot be verified, however he did write songs like For a’ that and a’ that which sound out for the rights and equality of all men. It has been considered for a national Scottish anthem and was sung at the opening of Scottish Parliament on July 1, 1999.

In his last years, his health declined rapidly due to what is thought to have been rheumatic fever. He died on July 21, 1796, and was buried four days later while Jean Armour gave birth to their ninth child. When the people of Scotland laid him to rest in Dumfries, an estimated 10,000 attended the funeral. He was buried with full military honours, attended by two regiments of the British Army and a Militia. His body lay in state for a few days as thousands filed past to pay their last respects: then the coffin was taken through the streets in the Grand Procession to St Michael’s Churchyard…. for burial in an unmarked grave! Burns was re-interred in a domed mausoleum in 1815.

Burns’ Suppers

Burns’ Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years. The ritual was begun by close friends of Burns a few years after his death as a tribute to his memory.

A standard format of a Burns’ Supper is:

  1. The haggis is piped into and around the room; the tune played is usually A Mans a Man for a That.
  2. The Address to a Haggis – a poem written by Burns – is given with appropriate flourish, cutting open the haggis at the appropriate time, followed by a Toast to the Haggis.
  3. A knowledgeable person gives the Immortal Memory (a tribute to Robert Burns).
  4. A Toast is made to the Lassies – outrageous, hilarious but gracious to the ladies (Burns was quite fond of the lassies).
  5. A reply is given by a lassie.
  6. The Selkirk Grace is said.
  7. The haggis is piped back to the kitchen and then served, usually with champit tatties an’ bashed neeps (potatoes and turnips).

The Selkirk Grace
by Robert Burns

Some ha’e meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we ha’e meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

We have for you a totally irreverent poem, Tae a Fert, appropriate for reading after serving the haggis – if you have the right kind of audience!

The Haggis

The haggis is made primarily from meat of the sheep, oatmeal, onions and spices. The mixture is cooked by boiling it inside a bag. And this is a very gentle description.

Here is a more complete recipe:

Lady Login’s Receipt, 1856

  • 1 cleaned sheep or lamb’s stomach bag
  • 2 lb. dry oatmeal
  • 1 lb. chopped mutton suet
  • 1 lb. lamb’s or deer’s liver, boiled and minced
  • 1 pint (2 cups) stock the heart and lights of the sheep, boiled and minced
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • ˝ tsp. each: cayenne pepper, Jamaica pepper, salt and pepper

Toast the oatmeal slowly until it is crisp, then mix all the ingredients (except the stomach bag) together, and add the stock. Fill the bag just over half full, press out the air and sew up securely. Have ready a large pot of boiling water, prick the haggis all over with a large needle so it does not burst and boil slowly for 4 to 5 hours. Serves 12.

Haggis did NOT originate in Scotland. It was known in Ancient Greece, Rome, France and England. Until Burns wrote his Address to a Haggis in 1786 there was nothing that made it peculiarly Scottish. Now – 200 years later – most people believe haggis to be both Scottish and peculiar.

translation

Address to a Haggis
by Robert Burns

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trancher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit!’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricasse wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! See him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trambling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware,
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Address to a Haggis
by Robert Burns

Fair is your honest, happy face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or guts:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning platter there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need,
While threw your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads.

His knife having seen hard labour wipes,
And cuts you up with great skill,
Digging into your gushing insides bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm, steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, they stretch and strive:
Devil take the last man, on they drive,
Until all their well-swollen bellies
Are bent like drums;
Then the old gent, most likely to burp,
Be thanked, mumbles.

Is there that over his French Ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a pig,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with a sneering, scornful opinion
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! See him over his trash,
As weak as a withered reed,
His spindle-shank a good whiplash,
His clenched fist, a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battlefield to dash,
O how unfit!

But note the strong, haggis-fed Scot,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clasped in his large fist a blade,
He will make it whistle;
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles.

You Powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their meals,
Old Scotland wants no watery food,
That splashes in dishes;
But, if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!

Humour

We do need a little Burns-related humour at this point....

An English doctor was being shown around a Scottish hospital. Near the end of his visit, he saw a ward of patients with no obvious injuries.

He started to examine the first patient, but the man proclaimed:
“Fair fa’ yer honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o’ the puddin' race!”

The doctor, taken aback, moved on to the next patient, who immediately said,
“Some hae meat and canna eat / And some wad eat that want it.”

The next patient cried out,
“Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie / O what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

“Well,” the English doctor muttered to his Scottish colleague, “I see you saved the psychiatric ward for last.”

“Oh, no,” said the Scottish doctor. “This is our serious Burns unit!”

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The tune you are hearing is, of course, Auld Lang Syne.

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