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As a teenager, I was fascinated by Burns’s poetry. When I picked up a used “Collected Works”, I was dumbfounded to read his letters. His prose was clear, unadorned 19th century English. It was nothing like his poetry!

I felt cheated.

But not for long.

burnshead1After digesting the horror of realizing that Burns’s poetic language was not his everyday speech, I came to understand what he was up to. Burns was capturing something essential about a Scots country dialect, and finding the music within. More than that, he was using the dialect (how accurately, I have no idea) to express the burgeoning Liberal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. He wrote of the dignity and worth of country people.

And on that note, I give you a song of liberalism at its finest.

 

A Man’s a Man for A’ That
Robert Burns (1795)

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
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.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and 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,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
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 –
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
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.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

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