Auld Lang Syne

Now that I’ve thought about it, instead of kicking 2020 to the curb, I’ll gently nudge it out the door. Thanks, Mr. Burns.

By the time late December arrives, we’re anxiously awaiting the gift of a new year. We watch it approach, and we answer its knock at the door with the anticipation of children on Christmas morning. New Year’s Eve always finds us giddy with the promise of tomorrows awash in champagne and lit with fireworks. To say that 2020 did not live up to that hype is an understatement, and most of us won’t be sorry to watch it disappear in the rearview mirror.

Recently, while binge-watching as though training for a new Olympic sport, I sat glued to The Crown on Netflix. In Season 2, one of the show’s characters was sung out of the episode by a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. It was the first time I had heard the song used in a context other than that of New Year’s Eve celebrations, and like most people, I had no real idea of what the words were, much less what they meant. I looked up the text of the Robert Burns poem. The original text, which Burns penned in his native Scots, was virtually indecipherable. Interestingly there is no literal English translation for the phrase “auld lang syne,” which Burns borrowed from a 16th Century Scottish ballad.

Loosely translated to mean “old days past,” these days, its first verse and refrain are belted out at midnight to the pop of champagne corks. Now reduced practically to a catchy jingle sung in tribute to the previous year, after reading the poem in its entirety, it seems a waste that only this snippet of the poem is widely known.

This past year has certainly not given us much to sing about, and I doubt that many will feel like raising their glass to toast it. “Hit the Road Jack” seems the better choice. Courtesy of quarantine, I had plenty of spare time to think about that. “Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?” Burns thought they were worth remembering. I’d popped many a cork to the words without giving them a second thought, but now I wanted to know the rest. “We two have run about the hills and pulled the daisies fine. But we’ve wandered many a weary mile since the days of auld lang syne.”

I heard the voice of my freshman poetry professor urging me to look beyond the obvious. Perhaps Burns never meant the poem to be an ode to the past 365 days, but rather a look back at our youth; at a lifetime of friendship, gratitude for having traveled the years together, and a little melancholy for getting older. When I applied it to our current situation, it could easily be a little chat between our new normal and our pre-pandemic selves. After all, we all feel like we have trudged more than a few weary miles this year. Somewhere, my poetry professor was dancing a jig.

It’s hard not to dwell on the hardships and pain of the last year, but perhaps we should look deeper and apply all the verses of Mr. Burns’ poem to 2020’s close. If you’ve never read it, it’s worth the time. If the past year did nothing else, it gave us time to sit and think—to be a little more introspective and more aware of what is important. It gave us a lot more appreciation for the good times we’ve had and people and things we once took for granted. It forced us to look at who we are and who we want to be. It showed us how to be resilient and how far a little kindness can go. We got through it, and though we may have done it virtually, we did it together.

Personally, I’ve acquired a posh new accent that I’d never have perfected without binging on The Crown. You don’t want to know what I picked up from six seasons of Hell on Wheels. And thanks to Robert Burns, I will also sweep the 18th Century poetry category on Jeopardy. Hopefully, once we’re able to get ourselves up off the sofa and swap out our sweats for pants with zippers, we will all ultimately find ourselves changed for the better by the circumstances it thrust upon us. I could get behind the idea of raising a glass to that.

When the clock strikes midnight, I’ll do just that. I’ll also toast the Scottish poet who made me see things a little differently, wish for next year to be far better, and hope that whatever it brings, we’ll travel it together.

For auld land syne, my dear, for old lang syne. We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet for old lang syne.” – Robert Burns

By Susan Frampton