If you’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve with American friends, you’ve heard the melody and maybe even the partial lyrics of the Robert Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne.” But if you are a non-native speaker, you are probably wondering, “What does this mean?”
Well, you are not alone. Most of your American friends don’t know either.
Because Robbie Burns was Scottish—and wrote these words over 200 years ago—it’s not easy for modern English speakers to understand.
Literally, auld lang syne means “old long since.” Some people like to translate it as “a long time ago” or “times gone by.” A broader interpretation might be “the good old days.”
Because Scotland’s national poet was writing about remembering dear old friends, I think the last interpretation is a good one.
At New Year’s, people get sappy, nostalgic, and a little drunk as they celebrate with friends. Usually, they remember the title line of the song, they remember the melody, but few of them remember the other words. So, if you learn the lyrics to the first verse and chorus, you will be ahead of many of your American friends.
Here are all five verses for you to enjoy singing the next time you’re at an English-speaking New Year’s Eve party.
Auld Lang Syne
1. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
2. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup, and surely I’ll buy mine!
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
3. We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine,
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.
4. We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.
5. And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.
Vocabulary and Pronunciation Notes
auld … syne = pronounced “old” … “sign”
acquaintance = people you know (or knew)
brought to mind = thought of
cup o' kindness = glass of alcoholic beverage
British pint = 0.57 liter
American pint = 0.47 liter (16 cups = 8 pints = 4 quarts = 1 gallon)
weary = tired
till dine = till dinner time
Broad seas have roared between us = Large distances have come between us; we’ve lost touch over time.
a hand = handshake
trusty = reliable
o’ thine = of yours
right good-will draught = very friendly drink
draught = pronounced “draft”