Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Auld Lang Syne. Many sing this song to ring in the new year. I have listened to renditions of this song by several different performers, and every version I’ve found has been upbeat and celebratory, in keeping with the holiday. But when I listen to the words, I don’t see why. I think it is a song beautiful with melancholy.

When I hear this song, I think of an old Scotsman. Winter has come, and he is on his way to the pub, for something to warm his cold bones. As he walks, he spies a pretty young lass, her arm linked with that of her beau. He smiles, remembering a time when he was not so different from this boy. Then she turns her head in a particular way, and he stops. The motion stirs a memory in him, and he realizes he knows this girl, but he has not seen her since she was only three years old. She is the daughter of a woman he once loved, but whose name he cannot remember. This realization cuts through him sharper than the wind, and he turns to the pub, shaken.

He says nothing as he comes to the bar, and does not need to. The barman sees the look in his eyes and silently pours him an ale. The Scotsman sees an old friend of his, and sits by him, greeting with a nod and a brief smile as he tries to remember the name of that girl so long now a woman, she who turned her head that way in days long past. At last he turns to his friend and, a small tremor in his voice, asks,

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

His friend smiles sympathetically at him, and the old Scotsman knows that he is not alone in feeling lost in the wind of years. The friend calls for another round, and says to the Scotsman,

And surely ye’ll buy your pint-cup
And surely I’ll buy mine,
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For days of auld lang syne. 

The pair reminisce of their days at university, and their mad adventures as young men. They laugh at what fools they had been, and chuckle their regret at ever trading that foolishness away.

We two have run about the braes,
And picked the gowans fine,
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since days of auld lang syne. 

They talk of those friends that have traveled far from the home. Some they remember vividly, and others only as fixtures in one story or another–as presences, not persons. They drink to those who have died, and speak of them with respect, but not with so much reverence that they do not laugh both with and at them. They compare the encounters each has had with nearly-forgotten friends, and find out who has last seen whom.

We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared,
Since days of auld lang syne.

The old Scotsman tells his friend of the young lass, and of his long-ago love whose name he cannot recall. His friend remembers the name, and tells it to him. As he hears the name, the Scotsman remembers more about her; her laugh, the color of her eyes, and the way she walked in his dreams. With these details returned to him, she becomes a woman once more, no longer a goddess by imperfect memory, and she no longer leaves him troubled.

They talk and drink together for several hours, at times laughing, at times coming as close to tears as is safe for two old Scots. At last, they stand, arms held across each other’s shoulders because they have barely two steady legs between them. And they half laugh, half sing, while trying to finish their last pints:

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 days of auld lang syne. 

 

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One Response to Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

  1. Pingback: Post 100: Of Books and Beards and Other Things I Shall Regret By December 1st. | Mindless Productivity

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