Meaning of the Robert Burns poem explained, and when to recite it at Burns Night

Burns Night is celebrated raucously every year on 25 January with rich, meaty food and whisky, providing a stern test for anyone observing Dry January or Veganuary.

Also central to the occasion, of course, are the verses of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most celebrated poet, which feature heavily in a traditional Burns Supper.

These include the famous “Address to a Haggis” and the poet’s succint “Selkirk Grace”, before ending with a rendition of a classic commonly associated with New Year’s Eve: “Auld Lang Syne”.

This generally comes after the series of toasts that follow the main meal, before whisky, dancing and general merriment ensues.

As well as Burns Night, the poem is also sung to symbolise other endings or new chapters including funerals, farewells and graduations.

“Auld Lang Syne” also has historically poignancy – it was apparently one of the songs sung by British and German soldiers during the Christmas Truce at the start of the First World War.

Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 - 1796), 1787. Engraving by C. Cook after a painting by Naismyth. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)
Robert Burns is Scotland’s most famous poet, and is known as the ‘Bard of Ayshire’ (Photo: Getty Images)

What do the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne mean?

Despite the poem being so well-known, the renditions that ring out to herald the new year tend to feature a somewhat relaxed interpretation of its actual words.

To make sure you do it justice at Burns Night, here are the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” in full, along with English interpretations of the original 18th century Scots:

Lyrics

Chorus:

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

Translation

For days long ago, my dear,
For days long ago
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For days long ago.

Lyrics

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

Translation

And surely you’ll have your pint tankard
And surely I’ll have mine.
And we’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For days long ago.

Lyrics

We twa hae ran about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.

Translation

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine
But we’ve wandered many a weary mile
Since the days long ago.

Lyrics

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn
Frae morning sun til dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

Translation

We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dinner-time
But the broad seas have roared between us
Since the days long ago.

Lyrics

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne!

Translation

And here’s my hand, my trusty friend,
And give me your hand too,
And we will take an excellent good-will drink
For the days of long ago.

More from Scotland

Who was Robert Burns?

Burns, variously known as “Rabbie”, the “Bard of Ayrshire” and the “Ploughman Poet”, is Scotland’s best-known poet.

One of the pioneers of the Romantic movement of poetry, he wrote variously in Scots and dialectic English, and is celebrated around the world.

Beyond “Auld Lang Syne”, his most famous works include “A Red, Red Rose”, “To a Mouse” (and “To A Louse”) and the longer poem “Tam o’ Shanter”.

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