This song, the words of which were written by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, has become a real hymn to friendship. Her melody sounds at birthdays, friendly feasts and New Year’s festivities around the world, not only in English-speaking countries. It has been featured in many movies, including such classic hits as “Waterloo Bridge” or “Gone with the Wind”. The Russian-speaking reader knows the poem “Auld Lang Syne” from a translation of Samuil Marshak, very close to the text, entitled “Old Friendship”. However, some connoisseurs of Scottish antiquity believe that the original version of this song was written more than a hundred years before Burns, who only wrote new words. Be that as it may, both the words and the melody of this song are familiar to the entire English-speaking world so well that not everyone thinks about its meaning. So, what is the song “Auld Lang Syne”, aka “Old Friendship” talking about?
History of the song “Auld Lang Syne”
Burns himself, sending “Auld Lang Syne” to print, wrote to the publisher that he heard this “old ballad” from a wandering singer. And indeed, in the collections of folk poetry of the 17-18th century, recordings of songs were found, the text of which is very close to the text of Burns. Moreover, the expression “Auld Lang Syne”, meaning “a long time ago”, is often found in folk tales created in ancient times. Perhaps, in view of all these considerations, the editor of the Scottish Museum of Music delayed the publication of the manuscript, so that this poem was not published until after the death of Burns.
Already in the next, nineteenth century, this song became well-known not only in his native Scotland, but also in Great Britain, and at the end of the century – in the United States, which received many Scottish emigrants. But it was not steamships and railways, or even the skill of translators, that made this song world-famous, but radio and cinema, thanks to which the culture of English-speaking countries becomes the property of the whole world. “Auld Lang Syne” has several variations of tunes, but the most popular one is the one sung by Dougie MacLean. And it is based on an old tune, which was recorded more than 200 years ago – in 1799. Legend says that it was this melody that Robert Burns hummed, who made “Old Friendship” immortal.
Meaning of “Auld Lang Syne”
This poem and, accordingly, the song are written from the word of a man who refers to his old friend, childhood friend. The text of “Auld Lang Syne” mentions boyish games and wanderings in the native mountains, which gave way to the trials of mature years. Once comrades bravely forded mountain streams, but now they were separated by sea waters. In their youth, they learned not to be afraid of steeps and landslides, so that in their mature years they bravely face any danger emanating from nature or from people.
What forces separated the friends of youth, the poet does not say, although many believe that this poem has autobiographical overtones. Maybe one of the friends who was far from his native Scotland was a supporter of the overthrown Stuart dynasty – the same one to which the unfortunate Queen Mary Stuart belonged. During the time of Burns, the Stuarts tried to raise a rebellion and regain the throne, but were defeated and were sentenced by the British crown to severe punishment or fled. Perhaps the danger referred to in the text of the “Old Friendship” refers precisely to participation in the uprising and forced emigration. Be that as it may, by the time the poem was created, the comrades met again, they drink for the long-awaited meeting, they recall the happy days of childhood and the trials of adulthood and feel that the friendship that connected them in ancient years is stronger than ever.
To understand the meaning of this song, you need to either know the Scottish language well, or read the text of “Old Friendship” in a high-quality Russian translation. This is due to the fact that the Scots language, especially its 18th century variant. differs significantly from both modern colloquial English and the classic English of BBC announcers, the norms of which are recorded in language dictionaries. As a result, the most heartfelt parts of the text cause laughter, at best – just bewilderment. But if you are familiar with the meaning of this song in advance, you will get real pleasure both from the melody and from the text that touches the most cherished strings of the heart.