Robert Burns: Auld Lang Syne

For the Ohio Repository



Dear BURNS, till earth itself decline,
And nature fades away,
The mystic powers of auld lang syne,
Thy genius shall portray;
Thy genius shall portray, my dear,
Thy genius shall portray,

The mystic, &c.

Oh, yes! each feeling, magic line,
Shall swell the grateful soul,
And while we sing of auld lang syne,
We’ll grasp the friendly bowl;

We’ll grasp, &c.

We’ll drink, the friend, not cool by time,
We’ll drink the friend of soul,
We’ll drink to thee, to auld lang syne,
We’ll drain the social bowl;

We’ll drain &c.

Oh, could I reach thy friendly hand,
And could’st thou but reach mine;
We’d take a cordial, social glass,
For auld lang syne;

For auld lang syne, &c.

But fare thee well, if thou art blest,
Thy friends need not repine;
But sometimes give a kindly thought,
To auld lang syne;

To auld lang syne, &c.

Ohio Repository (Canton, Ohio) Apr 1, 1825

Has another public idol fallen? Was Burns a plagiarist are the important questions that are agitating the literary world. Burns has ever been regarded as one of the most original poets but according to Henley & Henderson’s newly published volume, out of 509 of his songs, 158 were appropriated or derived from other and older ballads. Spare forbids me to give many examples, but take the popular “Old Lang Syne.” Burns’ version reads:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And ne’er be brought to mind;
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang syne.
Chorus —
For auld lang syne, my dear,
Auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup of kindness yet
For the days of auld lang syne.”

An old English ballad extant many years anterior to Burns’ birth reads as follows:

Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never thought upon
The Flames of Love extinguished
And freely passed and gone;
Is thy kind Heart now grown so cold
In that Boving Breast of thine,
That thou can’st never once reflect
On old lang syne.
Chorus —
On old lang syne,
On old lang syne,
On old lang syne,
That thou can’st never once reflect
On old lang syne.

In the Scotch vernacular “auld” means “old,” and “lang” means “long.” There are many other so glaring resemblance in verse and sentiment that while we must admit that Burns’ version is an improvement on the old song we cannot resist the impression that his supposed original songs are simply parodies of old ballads he heard or read in his native land.

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Feb 6, 1898

Interesting discussion of the song in:

Title:    Annual Burns chronicle and club directory, Issues 13-16
Authors:    Robert Burns, Burns Federation
Publisher:    D. Brown, 1904
Original from:    Harvard University

“Auld Lang Syne” starts on page 89. (Google Book link)

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4 Responses to “Robert Burns: Auld Lang Syne”

  1. Astri Wright Says:

    I just discovered at a local Robbie Burns party celebrating his birthday last night, here in western Canada, what I, for 3 or more decades, have loved and sung in Norwegian as an old Norwegian folk song. This is “Jon Anderson, Min Jo”.
    Last night at the party, I discovered the English-language song called “John Anderson, my Joe” – to nearly the same tune (some of the ancient natural-scale tones common in the Norwegian folk music had been anglicized or ‘normalized’ according to english folk tunes) and with basically the same verses, in English.

    I said to my friend driving home in the car, “I wonder if Burns heard this song and ‘lifted’ it for its beauty and lovely sentiment,” ~ maybe while travelling in Norway, or in a pub meeting Norwegian travellers (brought together by the prospect of beer, ever-alluring to both our peoples, from early days of mead-making and viking-travel, on doubt!)!

    Finding your site, my theory has yet more potential to it.
    Meanwhile, ‘plagiarism’ then and now, are not the same. And the whole idea of ‘intellectual property’ a fuzzy one; can one own ideas that are timeless and always have been around in the human heart?

    Still, I would love to know if the Norwegians adapted Burns’ song — and where did the melody Burns wrote to come from — or did Burns adapt the Norwegian version?

    Best wishes,

    • mrstkdsd Says:

      Thanks for your comment! I think, perhaps, Mr. Burns may have “lifted” several songs, revised them etc. I had posted a parody of the “John Anderson, My Joe” song, and hadn’t made the connection, as I was not familiar with the song! Now that I have read the lyrics of the “original,” the parody makes more sense to me, haha. Here is the parody:



      John Alcohol, my Joe John,
      When we were first acquaint,
      I’d money in my pockets, John,
      Which now I know there ain’t.
      I spent it all in treating, John,
      Because I loved you so,
      But mark me, how you’ve treated me,
      John Alcohol, my Joe.

      Now John Alcohol, my Joe John,
      We’ve been too long together;
      So you must take one road, John,
      And I will take the other!
      For we must tumble down, John,
      If hand in hand we go,
      And I will have the bill to pa,
      John Alcohol, my Joe.

      The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Aug 6, 1849

  2. Robert Burns: “John Anderson, My Jo” « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] comment [excerpt] left by Astri on a previous post about Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne: I just discovered at a local Robbie Burns party celebrating his birthday last night, here in […]

  3. | Blog | We're not sure if Dick Clark even knows this... Says:

    […] We’re not sure if Dick Clark even knows this:  You’ve heard the words auld lang syne many times in song on New Year’s Eve but you may not have known they’re Scottish for “old long ago” or “the good old days.”  The song was first published in 1796 with the words, as we know them, by Robert Burns. […]

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