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Wear hoddin grey, an'a' that?
A man's a man for a' that.
Their tinsel show, an'a' that,
Wha struts, an' stares, an'a' that?
He's but a cuif for a' that.
His ribband star, an' a' that
He looks an' laughs at a' that.
A Marquis, duke, an'a' that!
Guid faith, he manna fa' that!
Their dignities, an'a' that
Are higher ranks than a' that.
(As come it will for a' that)
1 Some MSS. read “chief.” ? Another reading is “The king.” 3 Other readings are "are better far" and "are grander far."
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an'a' that!
It's comin yet for a' that,
Shall brithers be for a' that.
OH, WERT THOU IN THE CAULD BLAST.
On yonder lea, on yonder lea,
I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee.
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
To share it a', to share it a’.
Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,
If thou wert there, if thou wert there:
Wi' thee to reign, wi' thee to reign,
Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.
THE JOLLY BEGGARS. Both as a poetic tour de force, and as a dramatic triumph, this is perhaps the most remarkable of the poet's productions. By the aid of a mere medley of traditional rhyming forms, it bodies forth one of the most vividly human scenes of
"midnight shout and revelry,
Tipsy dance and jollity," in the whole range of poetic creation. Yet it belongs to a very early period of his poetic career, being written about the close of the autumn of 1785; and he set so little store by it, that not only did he never think of publishing it, but by 1793 had almost forgotten its existence; and in reply to George Thomson he affirmed that he had “kept no copy, and indeed did not know that it was in existence.” The piece was first published in a tract "printed by Chapman and Lang for Stewart and Meikle" (Glasgow 1799). The MS. from which this copy was printed and also another MS. still survive.
For a history of the fortunes of the “jovial mumper,” in English and Scots verse, see the Centenary Burns (II, 291–8). From those predecessors Burns borrowed comparatively little except as regards form. In regard to subject-matter he however got a few suggestions from several songs in Wit and Mirth 1714 and 1719, as well as from The Merry Beggars published in The Charmer 1751, and included in Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany, and from The Happy Beggars, also included in the Tea Table Miscellany. The poem is modelled on the eighteenth century musical cantata or oratorio-narrative or recitative intermixed with Songs; yet it is wholly destitute of plot and merely descriptive, the songs providing a graphic epitome of the lives and characters of the singers. The characters depicted are the stock characters of the old songbooks, but they are entirely recreated. Plainly they are drawn from life, and from the poet's own intimate knowledge of the idiosyncracies of the frequenters of "Poosie Nansie’s” "Caravanseray" in Manchline. In regard to the metres, it is worth noticeing that while the recitatives
) The numbers refer to the pages of the Texts.
represent the most characteristic of the Scottish metres of the revival, the songs are modelled chiefly on the Anglo-Scots ditties of the Collections, and the Tea Table Miscellany, the poem thus representing, in a measure, an intermediate stage in his career.
FIRST RECITATIVO. This is the finest example of Burns' use of the stave of The Bankis of Helicon, probably invented by Alexander Montgomerie (1510–1610), the picturesque capabilities of the wheel being utilized with consummate mastery.
Stanza I, 1.9. “Poosie Nansie.”—The meaning of the nickname "Poosie” is doubtful-it may be equivalent to “Cat,” or have a reference to “brothel,” or have some unknown local signification. Burns tells us that she was “Racer Jess's mother” in The Holy Fair. As the wife of George Gibson, she appears in the kirk session records of the period as a contumacious drunkard. The "public” of “Poosie Nansie” has been rebuilt, and is now "much frequented” not by “tramps,” but by Burns club excursionists.
Stanza II, 1. 2. “Mealy bags”: bags for holding oat meal, the chief alms of the beggar in the Scotland of the olden time. Cf. the old song, The Jolly Beggar:
"They'll rive a' my meal-powks
THE SOLDIERS SONG. Partly suggested by one in a musical farce, “The Poor Soldier,” published in Caw's Poetical Miscellany (Hawick 1784), but also slightly reminiscent of a song in the Lark, 1740, pp. 52–54, and of some lines in The Merry Beggars:
"Make room for a soldier in buff,
And then he most wisely sold out.” Stanza II, 1. 2. "the heights of Abram":- In front of Quebec, where Wolfe died victorious, 13th September 1759. L. 4. "Moro”:
– The Castle of El Moro at Santiago de Cuba, stormed in August 1762.
Stanza III, 1. 1. "with Curtis”:- Admiral Sir Roger Curtis (1746—1816), who destroyed the French floating batteries before Gibraltar, 13th September 1782. L. 3. Elliot:-George Augustus Elliot, Lord Heathfield, the defender of Gibraltar.
SECOND RECITATIVO. In the rollicking metre of the old ballad stave, of which the earliest example in English is The Hunting of the Cheviots, and one of the most noted examples by the old Scots “makaris," Henryson's Robene and Makyne.
THE “MARTIAL CHUCK'S SONG." This graphic, but some-what squalid, ditty was perhaps suggested by Ramsay's Soldier Laddie, but has not much in common with it.
Stanza V, 1. 2. "Cunningham fair":-Cunningham, the northern territorial district of Ayrshire, contains the majority of the principal towns and villages of that county. 3
THIRD RECITATIVO. A burlesque of the solemn French octave or ballat-royal stave which, according 10 James VI, ought to be used “for any heich (high) and grave subjectes."
THE MERRY ANDREW'S SONG. Modelled after the later version of Auld Sir Symon in Herd's Collection (1769), derived from an old version preserved in the Percy folio MS. and also published in Wit and Mirth (1769). The metre is also identical with that of The Merry Beggars. 6
FOURTH RECITATIVO. In octosyllabic complet, much employed in scottish verse for tales and narratives.
THE “RAUCLE CARLIN'S” SONG. Though professedly set to the tune of “O an ye were dead Guidman," having no similarity in metre to that traditional song, but clearly suggested by the Jacobite song, Lewie Gordon, attributed to Alexander Geddes (1737–1802). As pointed out by Ritter (Quellenstudien zu Robert Burns p. 88), it is also reminiscent of the ballad of "Gilderoy."
FIFTH RECITATIVO. In the poet's favourite six line stave in rime couée, for a detailed history of which see The Centenary Burns (Vol. I, p. 336).