From the recording The Road Out of Town

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Like many other Scotsmen, Robert Burns followed the American and French Revolutions with great interest and read the works of Thomas Paine. He adapted thoughts and phrases from Paine's Rights of Man into this song, combining them with an older tune, "For a' that, an' a'that." When Burns sent the song to his publisher in 1795, he attached the comment, "A great critic… says that love & wine are the exclusive themes for song-writing. - The following is on neither subject, & consequently is no Song; but will be allowed, I think, to be two or three pretty good prose thoughts, inverted into rhyme." They are, in fact, some of the best known and best loved words that Burns wrote and have become (as biographers Chambers & Wallace put it) "the chosen hymn of all high-minded dreamers of a better day."


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, (simple)
wear hoddin grey*, an' a that; (a coarse woolen cloth)
Gie* fools their silks, and knaves their wine; (give)
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, (ever so)
is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie*, ca'd* a lord, (fellow)(called)
wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
he's but a coof* for a' that: (fool)
For a' that, an' a' that,
his ribband, star*, an' a' that: (decorations)
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 abon* his might, (above)
gude faith, he maunna fa'* that! (must not lay claim to)
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 brothers be for a' that.