Masonic Miscellanies – Freemasonry and Auld Lang Syne

 

Illustration to Robert Burns’ poem Auld Lang Syne by J.M. Wright and Edward Scriven. The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing the Poems, Songs, and Correspondence. Illustrated By W.H. Bartlett, T. Allom, and Other Artists. With a New Life of the Poet, and Notices, Critical and Biographical
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Burns’ Original Scots Verse

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?[a]

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-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;[b]
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

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.

Chorus

English Sung Version

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Chorus
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

AULD LANG SYNE and Freemasonry

This dismissory song now used throughout the English-speaking world. In Scotland, it gradually displaced the century-old ‘Good-night and joy be wi’ you a’.’

In spite of the popularity of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, it has aptly been described as ‘the song that nobody knows’.

Even in Scotland, hardly a gathering sings it correctly, without some members of the party introducing the spurious line: ‘We’ll meet again some ither nicht’ for the line which Burns actually wrote: ‘And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet’.

To say nothing of adding ‘the days of’ to the line ‘For auld lang syne’!

Source: – The Burns Encyclopedia (1959)

On 31 December millions of people throughout the English-speaking world will clasp hands and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on the stroke of midnight.

This seemingly age-old song is traditionally sung as we see out the Old Year, but few know the words past the first verse and chorus, and even fewer know what those words mean or where they originated.

Furthermore, various additions and adaptions have crept in such as adding ‘for the sake of’ to the last line of the verses.

The title may translate from the Scots to English as ‘old time since’, ‘old times past’ – ‘for auld lang syne’ loosely translates as ‘for the sake of old times’.

It is in essence a song of old friends, the reminiscences of time past, and raising a glass in the hope we will meet again.

Not only an anthem of the passing of the Old Year to the New, it is also sung at weddings, funerals, graduations, the election of a new government, and as a farewell, or closing to other occasions, such as the last lowering of the Union Jack as a British colony achieves independence.

The military use it for Passing-Out Parades, and the Scouting movement often use it to close their jamborees and other functions.

The words are primarily attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. As was common at the time, words from old legends, songs and poems were modified or ‘recycled’ by writers and poets and it is known that Burns appropriated some of the text, for he sent a copy of the song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 with the remark, ‘The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.’

The ballad ‘Old Long Syne'(1711) by James Watson, shows considerable similarity in both the first verse and chorus, to Burns’ later poem.

The well-known tune we are accustomed to is believed to have derived from a Scottish dance: “The Burns Encyclopedia” (1959) states:

The tune to which it was matched in the Museum first appeared in Playford’s Original Scotch Tunes, 1700, though doubtless it was then at least half a century old, for it was the tune to which the antecedents of Burns’s poem were written.

The ‘exceedingly expressive’ germphrase has been traced back to an anonymous ballad in the Bannatyne Manuscript of 1568, ‘Auld Kyndnes foryett’. The last of the eight stanzas goes:

“They wald me hals with hude and hatt,
Quhyle I wes rich and had anewch,
About me friends anew I gatt,
Rycht blythlie on me they lewch;
But now they mak it wondir tewch,
And lattis me stand befoir the yett;
Thairfoir this warld is very frewch,
And auld kyndnes is quyt foryett.”

From that anonymous old poet’s complaint of man’s ingratitude, we move on to a slightly later ballad, probably by the courtly poet Sir Robert Ayton (1570-1638) who accompanied James VI and I to England, though sometimes attributed on little evidence to Francis Sempill of Beltrees (d. 1683?).

First published in Watson’s Choice Collection of Scots Poems, 1711, the anthology upon which the whole of the 18th Century Scots Revival was based, Ayton’s poem begins:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never thought upon,
The flames of love extinguished,
And freely past and gone?
Is thy kind heart now grown so cold
In that loving breast of thine,
That thou canst never once reflect
On old-long-syne?

Source:– The Burns Encyclopedia (1959)

The Link to Freemasonry

 

 

 

Robert Burns, Depute Master Tarbolton Kilwinning St James No. 135. National Galleries Scotland. Creative Commons CC by NC
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

As many Freemasons are already aware, Robert Burns (1759-1796) became a Freemason at the age of 22, initiated into Lodge St David, Tarbolton, on 4 July 1781.

The Craft evidently had a significant influence on his work.

The conviviality and camaraderie he experienced in lodge no doubt contributed to his version of Auld Lang Syne – brotherly love being the underlying sentiment.

The Masonic ‘Chain of Union’ and Auld Lang Syne

The link to the singing of Auld Lang Syne and Freemasonry was reported in The Scotsman in 2021. Musicologist Morag Grant researched the connection in her book ‘Auld Lang Syne: A Song And Its Culture’ (2021):

University of Edinburgh musicologist Morag Grant – who has published a book about the song – spotted the Masonic link while sifting through the archives of Glasgow’s Mitchell Library.

A newspaper report of an Ayrshire lodge’s Burns Supper in 1879 describes the song being sung as members formed “the circle of unity” – a common Masonic ritual also called the “chain of union”.

Source:– The Scotsman, 2021

 

 

chain of union
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

At Hogmanay in Scotland, it is common practice that everyone joins hands with the person next to them to form a great circle around the dance floor.

At the beginning of the last verse (And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!/and gie’s a hand o’ thine!), everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa.

When the tune ends, everyone rushes to the middle, while still holding hands.

When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outwards with hands still joined.

The tradition of singing the song when parting, with crossed hands linked, is thought to have arisen in the mid-19th century among Freemasons and other fraternal organisations.

The Masonic routine is to form a circle in which everyone is equidistant from the centre, hands by their sides, symbolising they are relative strangers and demonstrating they are all equal.

The Chain of Union is associated with the Closing Charge.

 

Source:- Wikipedia

Wherever you are in the world, when you sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – also think of the Tyler’s Toast.

Raise a glass and physically (or symbolically) link arms in remembrance of ‘old times past’, old friends, brethren – and the hope of meeting again: 

Then to our final Toast tonight, our glasses freely drain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

The Mason’s social Brotherhood around the festive board,
Reveals a Truth more precious far, than the miser’s hoard.
We freely share the bounteous gifts, that generous hearts contain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

We meet as Masons free and true, and when our work is done,
The merry song and social glass is not unduly won.
And only at our farewell pledge is pleasure mixed with pain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

Amidst our mirth we drink to all poor Masons o’er the Earth,
On every shore our flag of love is gloriously unfurled.
We prize each Brother, fair or dark, who bears no moral stain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

We Masons prize that noble truth, the Scottish peasant told,
That rank is but a guinea stamp: The man himself the gold.
We meet the rich and poor alike, the equal rights maintain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

Dear Brethren of the Mystic tie, the night is waning fast,
Our work is done, our feast is o’er, this toast must be the last.
Good night to all, once more good night, again that farewell strain,
Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.

See also – ‘The Chain of Union’ article in this issue.

Footnotes
References

Lindsay, Maurice (December 1996) [1959]. “Auld Lang Syne”. The Burns Encyclopedia (New Third ed.). Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7090-5719-9. http://www.robertburns.org

 

Wikipedia contributors. (2022, December 17). Auld Lang Syne. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:43, December 18, 2022, from  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Auld_Lang_Syne&oldid=1127943880

 

Paterson, Laura – ‘Freemasonry behind Auld Lang Syne arm linking at new year’, The Scotsman,  31/10/2021 https://www.scotsman.com/news/people/freemasonry-behind-auld-lang-syne-arm-linking-at-new-year-3510868 accessed 18/12/2022

The Burns Encyclopedia

By: Maurice Lindsay

Robert Burns wrote songs, satires, and verse-letters along with the luminous poetry which has delighted readers for more than 200 years.

Since the first edition of this encyclopedic guide to his life and work was published in 1959 it has been regarded as the definitive guide to an important literary figure.

This third revised and updated edition includes the latest scholarship about the poet and his work and fills in details of little-known characters in the Burns story.

Includes illustrations from period paintings and etchings that bring the people and places of Robert Burns’ Scotland to vibrant life.

 

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