25th January is Burns Night, so Algy borrowed a volume of Robert Burns’ verse from his assistant, and settled down to read it. There wasn’t a dry spot to be found anywhere, as it had done nothing but rain and rain and rain for days on end, so as Algy was not a great fan of Burns in any case, he flicked through the volume as quickly as he could…

The famous poet wrote in 18th century Scots, a language which is no’ very easy to understand unless you speak it 🙂 And his life and work have little to do with the Scottish Highlands, as Burns was very much a Lowland person and poet. But Algy felt that he ought to do his duty nevertheless, and as he turned the pages he was relieved to come upon a familiar verse, which in fact the poet did not write himself, but merely recorded from an older tradition. Algy has provided his own translation beneath the original, because he knows that although this is sung all over the world, few people actually know what it means. Perhaps if they did, they would not sing it at New Year, because it really doesn’t fit 🙂

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of 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.
[Repeat chorus]

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fitt,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
[Repeat chorus]

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
[Repeat chorus]

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.
[Repeat chorus]

Algy’s translation:
Should old acquaintance be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgotten,
And the old days long ago!
[1]

For old times’ sake, my dear,
For old times’ sake,
We’ll drink a cup to friendship now,
[2, 3]
For old times’ sake.

And surely you’ll pay for your pint mug!
And surely I’ll pay for mine!
And we’ll drink a cup to friendship now,
For old times’ sake.

We two have run about the hillsides,
And plucked the daisies fine;
[4]
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since the old days long ago.

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

And there’s a hand my trusty comrade!
And give me a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a hearty good-will swig,
[5]
For old times’ sake.

Algy’s learned notes on the translation 🙂

[1] “Auld lang syne”… “lang syne” is a compound which means all of: the years of long ago, old times, and memories of the past. “Auld” simply means old. So although the phrase “Auld lang syne” is repeated for the purpose of rhyme, the sense varies slightly according to its place in the song, owing to the richness of the meaning.

[2] Although the “cup o’ kindness” is usually tranlsated literally, that isn’t really quite accurate, and it’s unlikely that “kindness” as we now understand it in English is what was intended – it probably means something like a drink to their friendship.

[3] How should “yet” be translated in “we’ll tak a cup of kindness yet”? It’s usually just repeated as it is, but Algy feels this isn’t right at all. The meaning in Scots would either be something like “now as before” or “at the present time”, and either could apply here – take your choice!

[4] Algy is never quite sure about the translation of “pou’d the gowans fine”, so he has left it ambiguous. It’s usually translated as “plucked the daisies fine”, with the intended sense of “plucked the fine daisies”, but in Scots the word “fine” is also used as an adverb to mean to do something well. For example “I mind it fine” means “I remember it well”.

[5] Algy sees a pun in the phrase “ right gude-willie-waught” which is often missed, especially when the first hypen is omitted. A “willie-waught” is a hearty swig, for example of ale. By using a hypen after “gude” (meaning good) in addition, the idea of goodwill is joined with the compound noun “willie-waught”, so it’s both a “very hearty swig” and a “goodwill swig” at the same time.

Algy perched on a strong, comfortable branch overlooking the forest and the deep, calm loch, and wondered how much longer the winter would last. It was Burns Night, and often by this time in January the song thrushes had started to sing… but not this year, with its exceptionally stormy winter that threatened to go on forever. As he gazed at the bare branches around him, Algy remembered Burns’ sonnet, written on this day, and recited it aloud in the hope that there might be a song thrush listening in the bushes:

          Sing on, sweet Thrush, upon the leafless bough,
          Sing on, sweet bird, I listen to thy strain,
          See aged Winter, ‘mid his surly reign,
          At thy blythe carol, clears his furrowed brow.
          Thus in bleak Poverty’s dominion drear,
          Sits meek Content with light, unanxious heart;
          Welcomes the rapid moments, bids them part,
          Nor asks if they bring aught to hope or fear.
          I thank thee, Author of this opening day!
          Thou whose bright sun now gilds the orient skies!
          Riches denied, thy boon was purer joys,
          What wealth could never give nor take away!
          But come, thou child of poverty and care;
          The mite high Heav’n bestow’d, that mite with thee I’ll share.

[Algy is reciting the Sonnet Written on the Author’s Birthday on hearing a Thrush sing in his Morning Walk by the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose birthday on 25th January is traditionally celebrated in Scotland by a Burns Supper.]

On 25th January, Scots traditionally hold a supper to celebrate the life and works of the national bard, Robert Burns. Today, Algy was thinking particularly of his friends in northern America who are suffering from an exceptionally severe winter, so he decided to recite one of his favourite and most appropriate Burns poems: Up in the Morning Early.

Algy wishes you all a happy Burns Night, and hopes that you will very soon see the spring, and feel like getting up in the morning early again 🙂

          Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
          The drift is driving sairly;
          Sae loud and shill’s I hear the blast,
          I’m sure it’s winters fairly.

          Up in the morning’s no for me,
          Up in the morning early;
          When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,
          I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

          The birds sit chittering on the the thorn,
          A’ day they fare but sparely;
          And lang’s the night frae e’en to morn,
          I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

          Up in the morning’s no for me,
          Up in the morning early;
          When a’ the hills are cover’d wi snaw,
          I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

For anyone unfamiliar with the sound of the Scots language, Algy recommends these readings of the poems.

[Robert Burns wrote in the language of Lowland Scotland, Scots or Lallan, which is an ancient form of the English language, but is not related to Gaelic.]

On Burns Night, Algy gazed at Ben Nevis across the upper reaches of Loch Linnhe and thought of all those people in far away places whose hearts are in the Highlands but who are not able to be here.

Listen to this beautiful traditional version of Robert Burns’ song My Heart’s in the Highlands performed by Shona Donaldson and Katie Mackenzie.