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Auld Lang Syne

By Alex Wood Inglis

Perhaps it is not too much to say that “Auld Lang Syne” is the best known and most widely diffused song in the civilised world. The use of the sacred song “Old Hundred” is limited by differences of sect, and that of the National Anthem “God save the Queen” is confined to subjects of the British Empire. But sectarianism and nationality are parochial in comparison to the wide domain of humanity embraced by “Auld Lang Syne.” Our brethren in every quarter of the earth know it better than we do ourselves; and I have heard a mixed company of Scots, English, Germans, Italians, and French Swiss sing the chorus in an upland hotel in Switzerland. The poetry and the music of the song as now known, have been developed from poetry and music which existed previously. In both its parts, it is an example of the evolution of art. If it should be thought that this view deprives Robert Burns of the merit of originality, then so far as Shakspeare has plagiarised “Romeo and Juliet” from an old Italian tale, and Handel has cribbed the “Hailstone” chorus from Carissimi’s “Jonah,” Burns is in the same list. But pedantry of this sort may be brushed aside. What all the three named artists touched they embellished,—they found dry bones and breathed into them life. It is the purpose of this paper to trace the development of the poetry and music of a world-wide song, the representative of a form of literature which has always existed, and which has stirred human emotion in every age, in spite of contempt continually poured on it.

The earliest germ of the song “Auld Lang Syne” is found in an anonymous poem of the 15th century, which George Bannatyne inserted in 1568 into his well-known manuscript of Scottish poetry, now in the Advocates’ Library. The title of the poem “Auld kindnes Foryett,” is in modern Scottish “[Should] auld acquaintance [be] forgot,”—the first line of all the subsequent poems on the subject. This old poem, beginning “This warld is all bot fenyeit fair” in eight stanzas of eight lines, is catalogued on page 59 of “Memorials of George Bannatyne. Edinburgh, 1829,” and is written on folio 80b of the manuscript. It is the soliloquy of one in straitened circumstances, whose condition is much aggravated by reflections on the ingratitude of those who professed themselves friends in his former prosperous days. The verses of this unknown writer have considerable merit, and Lord Hailes inserted them in “Ancient Scottish Poems. Edinburgh, 1770.” The fifth stanza may be quoted as a specimen of the poetry of the latter part of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th, and as an example of the masculine strength of the old Scots language:-

Read the original article at: Electric Scotland

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