Scots not only brought to the world in 1325 the most played game on the planet, golf, but also introduced in the year 1788 the most sung song in the civilized world, Auld Lang Syne.
It was introduced into Canada by the Scots Traders who founded the North West Company and in latter days Guy Lombardo and his “Royal Canadians” orchestra made it the landmark theme throughout North America with its playing in the countdown to New Year celebrations in New York.
Although credited to Scots-international-poet Robert Burns, in fact he revised both lyrics and music from an ancient poem compiled by George Bannatyne in 1568.
After that year various versions were produced with at least four authors until Burns, recognizing its inherent message of friendship and reunions of former acquaintances, decided to re-interpret its original diction into the current Scots’ verse. Ironically it did not get widely published until December 1796, five months after his death. There are ancient and modern versions in Scots museums for literary aficionados to analyze.
But what does it really mean?
A gathering of friends after a prolonged absence made life very pleasant, especially considering the mortality rates in Scotland of 53 years of age for the average man, the extremism of the Church, abject poverty throughout Britain, and clan and land conflicts that produced mixed company of loyalties and trustworthiness.
A collection of old friends and sometime political partnerships, oiled with the potent brews of those eras, led to very pleasant discourses and song. Prior to parting, the group would invoke tradition and as witnessed by Allan Ramsay, a musician and author of the time, would hold hands in a circle until all seven stanzas were complete or presumably until the brew ran out.
It is incredible that this song has been liberally translated into 40 languages from the old Scots, and like many international anthems is universally recognized as a symbol of humanity’s greatest attribute, friendship, peace and co-operation, and Robert Burns’ theme of human rights and equality, emerges as the spark of all of his poems and songs.
On New Year’s Eve, in Canada, the United States and around the world, hundreds of thousands of people will ring in the New Year with the words and song written in 1788 to friendship and peace, by Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne.
John Lennon (1940-1980) and Robert Burns (1759-1796) were made of the same cloth.
The world surely needs their message.
Bert MacKay a resident of St. Albert, a Robert Burns researcher and a past chairman of the Scottish Advisory Council (Canada). The research for this piece was done in 2008 at Alloway, Scotland, Robert Burns’ birthplace.