A Cup of Kindness

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX

 

Around the world, people gather with loved ones to celebrate the coming of a new calendar year with glamorous dinner parties, dancing, and the singing of the old favorite Auld Lang Syne. For many, it is a time of reflection, appreciation, and hopeful new beginnings. It is surprising, then, to discover the less than dignified origin of this most beloved anthem and the notorious man credited with its composition.

Who was Robert Burns?

Robert Burns was a poor farmer, a poet, a songwriter, and an agent of social chaos. Born in rural Scotland in 1759, Burns spent the majority of his childhood working the failing family farms, Mount Oliphant and Lochlie, and cultivating a hatred for “the social order of his day (Daiches).” Before the age of thirty, Burns had fathered at least three children out of wedlock and earned widespread notoriety for being outspoken against orthodox religion (Daiches). His early poems reflect the youthful desire for complete freedom and sentimental imagery of the country’s more prosperous past (Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL). Burns’ most notable works include contributions to The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803), A Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793-1818), and Poems, Chiefly in Scottish Dialect (1786).

Although he attempted for the majority of his adult life to break into high society, Burns did not ever gain complete acceptance and instead spent his days getting into mischief and writing (Daiches). One major reason for this social separation was the fact that Burns’ early education had been sporadic and limited to primarily orally transmitted information and folk tales (Daiches). Another factor perhaps, was the growing dominance of “English cultural and linguistic” conventions in the region (Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL). While Burns struggled to become the leading author of Scottish poetry, the same literary traditions were quickly becoming antiquated (Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL). It is important to note also, that Burns’ continued poverty was partially self-imposed since he often refused payment on the basis of his works being “a service to Scotland (Daiches).”

History of Auld Lang Syne

Despite Burns’ reputation as a social deviant and his many amorous affairs, one of his most enduring works is the song of friendship, Auld Lang Syne (1788). The poem was first published in the fifth volume of James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum in 1796, shortly after Burn’s death that same year (Lewis). The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, which roughly translates to “for old time’s sake,” is traditionally sung as part of the new year celebration by close friends or relatives who stand in a circle and hold hands (National Tourism Organization, Scotland). Phrases like “we two have run about the hills” and “we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,” reinforce the central theme of the work; appreciating old relationships and reflecting on fond memories over a comforting beverage together. At the beginning of the final verse, “and there’s a hand my trusty friend,” Scottish families cross their arms across their bodies and conclude the song by rushing to the middle of the circle and collapsing in a hilarious heap (National Tourism Organization, Scotland).  

Although Robert Burns is credited with this song, he was neither the composer of the melody or author of the text. The original melody of the song was likely taken from William Shield’s comic opera Rosina (1782), but is also not the same tune that is currently associated with the work (Lewis). The contemporary version of Auld Lang Syne did not appear until 1799 when composer George Thomson published a new edition of several Scottish songs in a series titled A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793–1818). The lyrics to Burns’ Auld Lang Syne were most likely inspired by Sir Robert Ayton’s Old Lang Syne, originally published in 1711 (Lewis). Ayton served the royal Scottish families of both James I and Charles I and was knighted for his services in 1612 (Westminster Abbey). After his death in 1638, Sir Ayton was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey with the following inscription:

Here lies the glory of the Muses, of his native land, and of the Court:

a pattern of virtue at home and abroad, not such as may be imitated.

Robert Burns’ choice to mimic such a widely revered Scottish poet certainly reveals something of his personal ambitions, as well as his incredibly high opinion of his own poetic talents. Although Burns did achieve international recognition and appreciation for his works, he was never to gain the same high honors (or degree of acceptance) as men like Sir Ayton. Instead, Burns was (and continues to be) regarded more as the voice of the common man whose greatest talents rested in the ability to capture the hilarity of “human foibles and hypocrisies” in poetic form (The Scottish Poetry Library). At the age of only thirty-seven, Burns passed away in the small town of Dumfries having been most recently employed as an Excise officer for the crown (Lewis).  

 

FUN FACT: Several Scottish people celebrate the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth with a special dinner and performances of his most famous works. This tradition is known as “Burns Night.

 

Lyrics to Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

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.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear
For long, long ago,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago

And surely youll buy your pint-jug!
And surely I'll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine;
But we've wandered manys the weary foot
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

And there's a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we'll take a deep draught of good-will
For long, long ago.

Chorus

 

FUN FACT: Auld Lang Syne did not become popular in the United States until 1929, when Guy Lombardo and his band, the Royal Canadians, played the song as part of the annual new year radio broadcast. It has since taken hold and become a New Year’s Eve staple.

 

 

 

 

Sources

Daiches, David. (2018). “Robert Burns.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Web. 10 December, 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Burns#ref967>

 

Dean and Chapter of Westminster. (2018). “Robert Ayton.” London, England. Westminster

Abbey. The Chapter Office. Westminster Abbey. Web. 10 December, 2018.

<https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/robert-ayton/#i13100>  

 

Editors. (2012). “Robert Burns.” The Scottish Poetry Library. The Scottish Poetry Library.

Edinburgh, Scotland. <https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poet/robert-burns/>

 

Editors. (2017). “The History and Words of Auld lang Syne.” Scotland. Scottish Enterprise.

Scottish Development International. Talent Scotland. Study in Scotland. National Tourism Organization.

Scottish Government. Web. 10 December, 2018. <https://www.scotland.org/features/the-history-and-

words-of-auld-lang-syne>

 

Editors. (2018). “Robert Burns.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL. Web. 12

December, 2018. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/robert-burns>

 

Lewis, Robert. (2017). “Auld Lang Syne.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica,

Inc. Web. 12 December, 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Auld-Lang-Syne>