Man's inhumanity to man... the class system that separates us.
Religion and power structures that abuse us. Rights and privileges
denied because of our social station. Robert Burns was writing about
it 300 years ago. Everything changes but everything stays the same.
In essence the poem is a plea for honesty, good sense, worthiness
and the hope that a brotherhood of man could exist.
In Verse One, Burns is saying that wealth, or lack of it,and social class should
not be the measure of a man's true worth. " The rank is but the guinea's stamp"
means that a person cannot be given a price. The man's character is the true gold.
Verse Two continues the theme. We may wear ordinary clothes, and eat simple food,
but appearance is just a show, like tinsel. Honesty is worth more than fancy clothes.
Now Verse Three might have got Burns into some trouble in Edinburgh. The birkie (cool young guy)
who struts around, and has the title of Lord, is only a coof (an idiot). The man who learns to think
for himself is worth much more than that.
Verse Four continues this theme. Princes can hand out titles at will, but honesty and pure goodness
are worth much more. Self respect doesn't come from inherited wealth or titles.
Verse Five is a prayer that Sense and Worth shall eventually agree with all mankind.
Burns imagines a future world in which all people will live as brothers, in mutual trust
and respect. "It's coming yet, for a' that". Well, it hasn't come yet Rabbie, but we live in hope.