This analysis of Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” is divided into three sections – context, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, and themes.
Context: “Auld Lang Syne” is said to have been written by Burns in 1788. In a letter to Mrs. Dunlop (a noblewoman who was very fond of his poetry, and whom he had a long correspondence with), he says he had adapted the poem from an old Scottish folksong to write on the subject of a meeting she had recounted between her and an old friend of hers.
Auld Lang Syne Analysis by Robert Burns
“Auld Lang Syne” was finally printed a few years after Burns’ death by George Thomson in his fifth volume of Scots Musical Museum. The poem has gained much popularity since then. In Scotland and other English-speaking parts of the world, it is sung on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the year gone by.
Rhyme Scheme and Rhetorical Devices: Each of the 5 stanzas, as well as the chorus, of this song follows the same simple rhyme scheme – ABCB.
In the chorus, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th stanzas, the poet uses the device of apostrophe. This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses his or her poem to an absent or silent audience. Here the poet speaks directly to his old friend and recounts their childhood adventures, but we never see the friend at any point in the poem.
In the chorus, the 2nd stanza and the 5th stanza, the poet uses the device of metaphor. This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things or ideas. In the chorus and the 2nd stanza, he compares alcohol with kindness, and in the 5th stanza, he compares a sip of alcohol with good-will.
Theme of Auld Lang Syne
Song of farewell: In this song, there are a number of clues that the poet is actually bidding goodbye to an old friend. In the 3rd stanza, he says that he and his friend are separated by seas, that is, they reside in different places. In the 5th stanza, they shake hands as if they are about to part. That is why this song is interpreted to be primarily a song of farewell. In addition to New Year’s Eve, the song is also sung at graduations (when students are leaving their alma mater) and at funerals (when the deceased is leaving behind his loved ones to journey to heaven).
Importance of preserving old acquaintances: This song begins by exhorting how important it is to remember one’s old friends. A large part of the poem is also devoted to remembering times spent with the old friend whom he is meeting. This subjective point of view and human aspect in poetry is symptomatic of the Romantic era, and is in direct opposition to the predominant use of wit and irony in Augustan poetry. This is why Burns is known as a pre-Romantic. His themes match with those of the Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Shelley, but his timeline precedes hem by a few decades. He also served as an inspiration to the younger generation of poets who would later become known as the Romantics.
Scottish landscape: Robert Burns wrote in Scots, and also drew inspiration for runes from old Scottish folktales. This shows that he was very proud of his national heritage. In a similar vein, his poetry also bears testimony to the beauty of his homeland. The Scottish landscape features in almost all of his poetry, and “Auld Lang Syne” is no exception. In the 3rd stanza, for example, Burns writes about trekking in the Scottish Highlands. He also mentions that there is much greenery to be found on those slopes, including the daisies he used to pick as a child along with his friend. In the 4th stanza, Burns talks about the many streams that dot the Scottish landscape.
On these streams, the water is mostly calm, and hence, it is possible to paddle there with ease. These adventures that the Scottish landscape has made possible for the poet and his friend form the very basis of their friendship – the friendship he is eager to preserve, despite being separated from his friend by a sea.
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