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A Man's a Man For A' That

Posted by ESC (USA) on July 14, 2004

In Reply to: A' that and a' that posted by UC on July 14, 2004

: I wonder what "a' that and a' that" means. I found it in "The Green Mile".

: Don't let nothing happen to Mr. Jingles, I could hear Delacroix saying in a voice that wouldn't stay steady. I could hear that, and I could feel the warmth of Mr. Jingles as the Frenchman handed it to me, just a mouse, smarter than most of the species, no doubt, but still just a mouse for a' that and a' that.

Maybe from a Robert Burns poem?

A Man's a Man For A' That
Robert Burns

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 abon 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 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 coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
This most famous song of liberty and independence gives us an enduring image of Robert Burns. It's the provocative and defiant Burns, who laughs in the face of the ruling classes and who openly claims that he, and his people, are as good, if not better, than any of them.

It's a sentiment that has characterised the verses of many of Scotland's best poets, from Blind Harry's tales of William Wallace to Hugh MacDiarmid's 20th Century rants. It's the same sentiment that packs the punch in the Declaration of Arbroath: that although the Scots are poor and harried by more powerful neighbours, what they should always strive for is freedom and independence.

These are the types of images that make a bard a bard, a champion of the common people. But Burns's own life isn't always consistent with his poetry, and in his time there were many different perspectives on Burns.

(From the BBC Web site.)