Robert Burns: A MAN'S A MAN FOR A' THAT

The original tune is `For a' that'.

The message in the uncanny directness and simplicity of this song is one of universal fraternity. Its origin, its inspiration, however, shows a certain dichotomy in its author's attitude. On the one hand, it openly exemplifies Burn's sympathy with the Masonic notion of Brotherhood (Burns became a Freemason in 1781); on the other, written in 1795, it symbolises (in line with the radical spirit of Thomas Paine's `Rights of Man') Burns's almost revolutionary support for the idea of general social reform. He was, for instance, overtly supportive of the French revolution of 1794 which overthrew Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette. In the simplest terms, this enduring song is Burns's cri-de-coeur for the universal recognition of talent, wit and intelligence over bloated rank and privilege.

Sent to Thomson in January 1795. The intense contempt of rank has made this a revolutionary song with a central place in the psalmody of radicalism. Burns comment to Thomson was `two or three pretty good prose thoughts, inverted into rhyme'; the same month in a letter to Mrs Dunlop, he referred to the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as `the deserved fate of ... a perjured Blockhead and an unprincipled Prostitute.' Clearly he was in a revolutionary mood that month and this song combines hatred of a rank-ridden past with faith in an egalitarian future. Printed in the Glasgow Magazine (August 1795) and the Oracle (2 June 1796) it was collected by Currie (1800) and included in Thomson's SCSA (1805), matched to the tune `Up and war them a' Willy.'

   Is there for honest poverty
      That hings his head, an a' that?                            hangs
   The coward slave, we pass him by ---   
      We dare be poor for a' that!
   For a' that, an a' that!
      Our toils obscure, an a' that,
   The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
      The man's the gowd for a' that.                              gold

   What though on hamely fare we dine,
      Wear hodding grey, an a' that?               coarse woollen cloth
   Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine ---
      A man's a man for a' that.
   For a' that, an a' that,
      Their tinsel show, an a' that,
   The honest man, tho e'er sae poor,
      Is king o men for a' that.

   Ye see yon birkie ca'd `a lord,'                              fellow
      Wha struts, an stares, an a' that?
   Tho hundreds worship at his word,
      He's but a cuif for a' that.                                 fool
   For a' that, an a' that,
      His ribband, star, an a' that,
   The man o' independent mind,
      He looks an laughs at a' that.

   A prince can mak a belted knight,
      A marquis, duke, an a' that!
   But an honest man's aboon his might ---                        above
      Guid faith, he mauna fa' that!                           must not
   For a' that, an a' that,
      Their dignities, an a' that,
   The pith o' sense an pride o' worth,
      Are higher rank than a' that.

   Then let us pray that come it may
      (As come it will for a' that),
   That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth,
      Shall bear the gree an a' that.                     have priority
   For a' that, an a' that,
      It's coming yet for a' that,
   That man to man, the world, o'er
      Shall brithers be for a' that.