Monday, January 23, 2006

For 'A That

For A' That

    IS there for honest poverty
    That hangs 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 toil's obscure, and 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, an' a' that,
    Their tinsel show an' a' that;
    The honest man, though 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 riband, star, and 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,--
    Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
    For a' that, an' a' that;
    Their dignities an' a' that,
    The pith o' sense an' pride o' worth,
    Are higher ranks 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 coming yet for a' that,--
    That man to man, the world o'er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that!
    Robert Burns (1759-1796)


Scottish poet Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayreshire, January 25, 1759. Even though poverty limited his education Burns read as much as he could in English literature, the Bible and was self taught in French. In 1784 he read the works of the Edinburgh poet Robert Fergusson and it was this influence along with Scottish folk tradition and older Scottish poetry that he became aware of literary possibilities of the Scottish regional dialects. Many of his early poems satirized Calvinist theology and local ecclesiastical squabbles and he further angered the church by having a number of indiscreet love affairs later lionized by fashionable society. He resented the literati condescensions; they considered him an untutored bard, a Heavens-taught Plowman and soon alienated himself. This was a foresahdowing of his adamant independence, blunt manner of speech and occasional social awkwardness all of which did nothing to deter him from being an enthusiast for liberty and social justice.

Written in 1794, For A' That was first printed in the Glasgow Magazine (August 1795) and included in George Thomson's SCSA (1805), matched to the tune `Up and war them a' Willy.' Burns sent it to Thomson, who was making a song collection, with the note, "I do not give you the foregoing song for your book, but merely by way of vive la bagatelle; for the piece is not really poetry." (vive la bagatelle means a trifle nothing. The French use it to talk about a petty love affair when they disassociate the idea of love and sex.

For A' That asserts the idea that basic human dignity was the heritage of any man and "liberty, equality, fraternity" should be the basis of economic as well as social intercourse. There are pipelinks to serve as a glossary to some of the dialect terms to make the reading easier to understand. An outspoken champion Republican cause for social reform during The French Revolution, after Franco British relations deteriorated he curbed his radical sympathies and in the same year as this composition he joined the Dunfriesshire Volunteers. He sent the piece to George Thomson in 1795 because he found a compatriot spirit in the similar poem Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. He added some comments with regard to his intense dislike bloated rank and privilege, `two or three pretty good prose thoughts, inverted into rhyme'; the same month in a letter to another friend, he referred to the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as `the deserved fate of ... a perjured Blockhead and an unprincipled Prostitute.'

Robert Burns was a keen and discerning satirist who reserved his sharpest barbs for sham, hypocrisy, and cruelty. His satirical verse, once little appreciated, has been in recent decades been widely recognized as his finest work.


For A' That

    MORE luck to honest poverty,
    It claims respect, and a' that;
    But honest wealth's a better thing,
    We dare be rich for a' that.
    For a' that, and a' that,
    And spooney cant and a' that,
    A man may have a poundten-pun note,
    And be a brick for a' that.

    What though on soup and fish we dine,
    Wear evening togs and a' that,
    A man may like good meat and wine,
    Nor be a knave for a' that.
    For a' that, and a' that,
    Their fustian talk and a' that,
    A gentleman, however clean,
    May have a heart for a' that.

    You see yon prater called a Beales
    Who bawls and brays and a' that,
    Tho' hundreds cheer his blatant bosh,
    He's but a goose for a' that.
    For a' that, and a' that,
    His Bubblyjocks, and a' that,
    A man with twenty grains of sense,
    He looks and laughs at a' that.

    A prince can make a belted knight,
    A marquis, duke, and a' that,
    And if the title's earned, all right,
    Old England's fond of a' that.
    For a' that, and a' that,
    Beales' balderdash, and a' that,
    A name that tells of service done
    Is worth the wear, for a' that.

    Then let us pray that come it may
    And come it will for a' that,
    That common sense may take the place
    Of common cant and a' that.
    For a' that, and a' that,
    Who cackles trash and a' that,
    Or be he lord, or be he low,
    The man's an ass for a' that.

    Charles William Shirley Brooks (1816-1874)

In 1851 Charles William Shirley Brooks became a staff writer for Punch Magazine the English illustrated periodical that lasted over 150 years. Its contributors included such poets as William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Hood, William S. Gilbert and Owen Seaman. Illustrators John Leech and John Tenniel drew for its pages. For over twenty years Brooks wrote Essence of Parliament and included many a political satire including this poem which is a parody of Robert Burns' For A' That. In it, Brooks satirizes the radical positions of Edmond Beales (1803-1881), lawyer, politician and pamphleteer. The head of the Reform Demonstration of 1866 which culminated in the memorable siege of Hyde Park, who by todays standards considered a "far-left-winger" (to use the modern cant). Shirley Brooks poem is classic illustration of the attitude often found in Punch Both satirical and middle-class its editors did not mind poking fun, but they and their readers were unalterably British.

Sources:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Burns, Robert", Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

For A' That
Accessed
Aug 07 2001.

Public domain text for Brook's poem taken from The Poets' Corner
Accessed Aug 07 2001.

Public domain text for Burn's poem taken from The Poets' Corner
Accessed Aug 07 2001.

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