Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Singing in the New Year

Most of us are familiar with “Auld Lang Syne” as a song for bringing in the new year. The words are attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, but he claimed they were based on an old song. To this day it is unclear if it was all collected material or if some verses were original with him. (See The Burns Encyclopedia at

“Auld Lang Syne” was first published in the Scots Musical Museum near the end of the 18th Century. You can tell from the words that it wasn’t written to ring in a new year, although that has become its traditional use. Instead, it remembers old friendships. “Auld lang syne” was a common phrase of that day that literally meant “old long since” or, as we are more likely to translate it, “long ago.”

Here are the original words to the song as translated from the Scots version to modern-day English. To retain the character of the poem, the term “auld lang syne” has not been translated. You will notice that the last line of the chorus is missing the commonly sung words “days of,” which were added later to better fit the words to the tune.

Auld Lang Syne

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


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 of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


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


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


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


Happy New Year from IWC.


The picture at the head of this post is a Currier and Ives print titled “Central Park Winter. The Skating Pond.” The hand-colored lithograph is from 1862 and is based on a painting by Charles Parsons. The picture and the words (and music) to “Auld Lang Syne” are in the public domain because of their age.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Snow by Any Other Name

Have you ever tried to write a poem about a specific subject without ever once using its name? That’s what Emily Dickinson did in “It sifts from Leaden Sieves.” The “it” in the title and throughout the poem is snow, but that word never appears. Instead, the poem describes snow through its actions and its effects. Here are the words.

It sifts from Leaden Sieves

It sifts from Leaden Sieves –
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles in the Road –

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain –
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again –

It reaches to the Fence –
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces –
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack – and Stem –
A Summer’s empty Room –
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them –

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen –
Then stills its Artisans – like Ghosts –
Denying they have been –

Here’s a challenge. Try writing your own poem describing a tangible object without naming the subject.


The picture at the head of this post is a Currier and Ives print titled “Winter in the Country. The Old Grist Mill.” The two-color lithograph was created in 1864 based on a painting by George H. Durrie. It is in the public domain because of its age.

“It sifts from Leaden Sieves” was published after Emily Dickinson’s death, first appearing in a volume called Poems (1891). The poem is in the public domain because of its age.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Snow Inspires Poetry and Awe

One of the best-known poems about winter is Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Frost was born in California but spent most of his life in New England, so he knew about snowy winters. According to Wikipedia (citing The Robert Frost Encyclopedia for reference), however, the poem actually came to him on a summer morning as he viewed the sunrise. Maybe he made the connection because sunrises and unbroken snow are both among nature’s most inspiring scenes.

But duty calls, and the narrator of this poem doesn’t have time to stop and enjoy the moment. Here are the words.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

May you find the time to stop and enjoy the beauty of winter and maybe even write a poem of your own.


The picture at the head of this post is a Currier and Ives lithograph titled “Snowed Up. Ruffed Grouse in Winter.” It was published around 1867 and is in the public domain because of its age.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jingle Those Bells

Winter temperatures have arrived, and the snow won’t be far behind. As we get busy preparing for the upcoming holidays, it’s hard to find time to create scholarly blog posts. So we are going to take a more light-hearted approach and look at “Jingle Bells” this week. After all, isn’t it time to recognize that song lyricists are writers, too?

Most of us think of “Jingle Bells” as a Christmas song, but it doesn’t mention Christmas or any other holiday, making it more appropriately classified as a winter song. The music and lyrics were both written by James Lord Pierpont. The song was first published in 1857 under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” and was reissued two years later under the current title. It was not a hit either time.

It’s unclear exactly when and where Pierpont wrote the song. He grew up in New England and must have been remembering winters there, but he may have written it after moving to Georgia. In fact, both Massachusetts and Georgia appear to claim the honor.

The song has four verses, and some are more familiar than others. Here is the entire text using the original words (according to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia).

Dashing through the snow,
In a one horse open sleigh,
O’re the fields we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh. (REPEAT)

A day or two ago
I thought I’d take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we, we got upsot.


A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow,
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away.


Now the ground is white
Go it while you’re young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you’ll take the lead.


Have fun with your own winter pursuits.


The picture at the head of this post is a Currier and Ives print titled “The Road – Winter.” The original was drawn on stone by Otto Knirsch no later than 1853 and supposedly shows Nathanial Currier and his wife in their favorite sleigh. Unfortunately, this picture has a two-horse open sleigh rather than a one-horse open sleigh. However, you can see the jingle bells around the white horse’s belly.

The picture and the lyrics to “Jingle Bells” are both in the public domain because of their age.