2011: Another 'Long Time Past'

Played Every Year

Back in 2009, on a similar late December evening, I wrote about the words and music that once (perhaps still) sum up the ending of the year. With 2011's additions, that essay went something like this:

I'm no hyphenate. It would be an impertinence and a form of dress-up. But my last name is borderline Scots, and I once made the ultimately pointless trip to see where my great-grandfather was born in Dalkeith, Scotland and his father's grave in Lanark.

Of him nothing remains except this tombstone, overgrown with evergreens when I saw it.

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There's no owning that. Everyone who might connect Scotland to me died long ago or dispersed to all the places where English is spoken - Tasmania, Wyoming, Canada, Boston, Brooklyn, and Mauritius. Some of then even went to China as Presbyterian missionaries.

Coming to California once meant a similar breaking of ties, as if Los Angeles was as good as Tasmania for completing personal diasporas. My parents arrived at the start of World War II and stayed here to get as far from my father's mother as they could. My California was an island escape with no great strain of sentiment.

But we all feel something tugging - some "olden long ago" (which is what auld lang syne meant to poet Robert Burns).

Burns gave the Scots the words for Auld Lang Syne and even a tune, though not the current one. Burns' poem honored the unexpected sentimentality of the dour Scots and passed it from them to an even more sentimental world.

Auld Lang Syne and its current tune are sung and on occasions of sad parting from Mumbai to Poland. The tune was once the national anthem of Korea. It was the funeral music played in Zimbabwe.

Burns composed Auld Lang Syne in a literary language he (and others) made up from northern provincial English and the everyday Scots dialect of the working men and women of 18th century Edinburgh. That invented language was always intended to be spontaneous, romantic, poetic . . . a device of memories not commerce.

Burns' language may be invented, but it still works.

On the brink of another year that will need kindness and cups enough, here's Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

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.

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
.

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

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for 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.

Auld Lang Syne

Guy Lombardo, the Canadian-American band leader, played New Year's Eve concerts for 40 years that always included Auld Lang Syne

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Pamla J. Eisenberg. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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