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For A' That and A' That by Robert Burns

January 24, 1988

Is there, for honest poverty, That hangs his head, and a' that? The coward-slave, we pass him by, We dare be poor for a' that! For a' that, and a' that Our toils obscure, and a' that The rank is but the guinea stamp; The man's the gowd for a' that. What tho' on hamely fare we dine, Wear hodden-gray, and 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, and 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, and stares, and a' that; Tho' hundreds worship at his word, He's but a coof for a' that, For a' that, and a' that, His riband, star, and a' that, The man of independent mind, He looks and laughs at a' that. A prince can mak a belted knight, A marquis, duke, and a' that; But an honest man's aboon his might, Guid faith he mauna fa' that! For a' that, and a' that, Their dignities, and a' that, The pith o' sense, and 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, May bear the gree, and a' that. For a' that, and a' that, It's coming yet, for a' that, That man to man, the warld o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that.

Tomorrow is the 229th birthday of Robert Burns, a Scottish poet who was born poor, died the same way, and managed, in between, to keep neither his unorthodox opinions nor his unruly affections in check. Called upon to toast William Pitt, then the prime minister of England, Burns toasted, instead, "the health of George Washington, a better man." In the Scottish dialect poem above, Burns dreams beyond political revolution to the triumph not just of merit over rank but also of plain speech and honest feeling over silky equivocation and corrupt reserve. A new biography of Burns by Raymond Bentman of Temple University, just published by Twayne in its World Authors series, claims that the Scot, a renowned philanderer, was actually (or also) a feminist. Whether this will cause a groundswell of new interest in him remains to be seen.

A': all; guinea: a coin; gowd: gold; gie: give; sae: so; yon birkie: that guy; coof: goof; riband: ribbon; aboon: beyond; guid: good; mauna: may not; bear the gree: carry off the prize.

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