There is a very important line missing from the last verse as published here. If you look carefully you will see the last verse only has 7 lines instead of 8. The missing line comes after For a' that... and should read It's coming yet, for a' that, . Burns was an international socialist centuries ahead of his time, he fervently believed that all men are born equal, and many Scots share that sentiment with him.
Robert’s main theme lies in “pith o’ sense and pride o’ worth.” No matter what his or her station in life is, no person is above another. Their inner core (pith) , their brain gives them pride (worth) .
Perhaps it was because Burns lived during the French and American revolutions, and supported the freedom of the common man, which lead to Burns being so popular in America, Russia and China. To quote Pat Kane
In the US, there are more statues to Robert Burns than to any other single poet. His impact in Russia and China, and on writers such as Maya Angelou and Seamus Heaney, Walt Whitman and Toni Morrison, is well known.
But not apparently to Pruchnicki who claims Robert Burns was a democrat (with a lower-case d) who would have fled from the collective farms that Marx, Lenin and Stalin supported and celebrated. True or false? False.
Robert Burns was a Scot not an American. He lived between 25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796. Please note, the Democratic-Republican Party ascended to power in the election of 1800, after the death of Robert Burns, and the modern Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s, Burns was not a democrat.
Next Pruchnicki mixes the different political periods of Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and claims Burns would have fled their collective farms. To begin with Karl Marx was a Prussian-German philosopher, not Russian, not a political leader, he died in 1883. The Russian revolution began in 1917, so it would have been impossible for Burns to flee any Marx collective farms, they never existed.
Burns might have been attracted to romantic notions of Lenin style collective farms, but not the reality which eventuated. Stalin did not have collective farms, Stalin had Gulags, known officially as corrective labour camps. Few escaped these Soviet forced labour camps during the Stalin era, Burns suffered ill health, he would not have survived in one of Stalin's camps long.
Next the Pruchnicki myth that Burns only contemplated moving to Jamaica, not for a higher social class or the profit to be made on selling slaves....
The truth is Burns voluntarily contracted and accepted a position to help manage a slave plantation in the West Indies. This position as a bookkeeper, involved becoming a manager of enslaved human beings. The success of the first volume of poetry published by Burns saved him from this fate and he never boarded his ship to Jamaica. To save time I will quote previous extracts on this history, which can be easily checked.
A friend of Burns, Patrick Douglas, had a share in a sugar estate in Jamaica, where his brother was the manager. There was a vacancy for a bookkeeper and Burns accepted the position in order to escape his situation at home.
These bookkeepers - many of whom were Scots - also had to deal with daily management of slave labour in all its barbarity.
He would have a daily interface with the truth of slavery - from assisting in purchases, through recording punishments and deaths.
Pruchnicki is actually correct that Burns would not have gained a higher social class or the profit to be made on selling slaves as a mere bookkeeper. The reality of their class status can be accurately gleamed from the quote below.
There is no doubt that the lives of these white men were wretched. As well as having to cope with the rigours of the climate, many found the work cheerless according to one. Isolated, poorly paid and shunned by much of white society, these men often turned to the bottle, which, we know, sometimes led them to commit brutal acts against slaves. Several died within the first few months of taking up their posts. Far from merely keeping accounts, we know these men were responsible for driving slaves, as well as overseeing the planting, harvesting and processing of the cane.
Pruchnicki asks for Burns contemporaries, the names of his contemporaries who inveighed against slavery in late 18th century England/Scotland! There were many including protests of common, not famous people, but as Scots generally could not suffer the English at this time, we shall name first only Scottish theologian and scholar Alexander Geddes, William Campbell and William Yates; not to be confused with the American William Yates Gholson. The Scots were anti-slavery before the English as can be testified to by early Scottish freedom suits.
Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in the British Isles to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland from 1755 to 1778. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755) , Spens v. Dalrymple (1769) , and Knight v. Wedderburn (1778) . Each of the slaves had been baptized in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery.
Lord Mansfield, William Murray,1st Earl of Mansfield was an English anti-slavery contemporary of Burns. Another was John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace to illustrate a sermon on New Year's Day of 1773, his friend English poet William Cowper and the great anti-slavery activists William Wilberforce.
To avoid listing pages, please read Gerry Carruthers, who stated Burns's straying into the territory of slavery in his work is piecemeal. Carruthers expanded on this stating
Burns, actually, is remarkable in his work for how little attention he pays to the African slave and we can contrast him somewhat unfavourably with a number of contemporary Scottish writers in this regard.
Lastly no Mr Pruchnicki, the last final lines of 'A Man's a Man for A' That' by Robert Burns, does not allude to 'the Russian Revolution that enslaved millions'. Burns died in 1796, the Russian Revolution stated in 1917.
I have waited three years for a fellow academic to address the many inaccuracies in the Pruchnicki rhetoric about the poet Robert Burns. Pruchnicki seems to lack an understanding of dates and time lines in global history, or having read none of the many books and articles written about Burns, perhaps deep in cups, actually believes what he has written. Because fellow poets, may not have completed undergraduate studies on Burns, and then continued to read widely on our beloved poet Robert Burns, I will address a few Pruchnicki myths one by one.
The first Pruchnicki ranting, For God's sake, man, forego that drivel about Burns as a 'communist ideal, ' loved and admired in the Soviet Union (NOT Russia!) . True or false? False. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Soviet Union, existed as a constitutionally socialist state between 1922 and 1991. In 2010 when Pruchnicki comments, the Soviet Union has not existed for almost twenty years, after the wall came down, the country became Russia again.
Next was Robert Burns a communist ideal in Russia? Yes. I shall quote from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, rather than my own studies to avoid further attack on the straw man, huffing and puffing!
Burns became the people's poet of Russia. In Imperial Russia Burns was translated into Russian and became a source of inspiration for the ordinary, oppressed Russian people. In Soviet Russia, he was elevated as the archetypal poet of the people. As a great admirer of the egalitarian ethos behind the American and French Revolutions who expressed his own egalitarianism in poems such as his Birthday Ode for George Washington or his Is There for Honest Poverty (commonly known as A Man's a Man for a' that) , Burns was well placed for endorsement by the Communist regime as a progressive artist. A new translation of Burns begun in 1924 by Samuil Marshak proved enormously popular, selling over 600,000 copies. The USSR honoured Burns with a commemorative stamp in 1956. He remains popular in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
For God's sake, man, forego that drivel about Burns as a 'communist ideal, ' loved and admired in the Soviet Union (NOT Russia!) . Robert Burns was a democrat (with a lower-case d) who would have fled from the collective farms that Marx, Lenin and Stalin supported and celebrated. By and large, he was a poet who feasted on wine, women and song, leaving the politics of the day to others. He contemplated moving to Jamaica, not for a higher social class or the profit to be made on selling slaves, but because he was damn near flat broke! The sale of his poems made him some money and garnered some attention from 'birkies called lord(s) ' that he realized was mere vainglory! His position in the excise (a tax collector!) was of little consequence. Burns wrote poems that demonstrated his love of life. Please tell us the names of his contemporaries who inveighed against slavery in late 18th century England/Scotland!
Was the Russian Revolution that enslaved millions the event Burns alludes to in the final lines -
The poetry of Robert Burns is more complicated than the simple surface appearance we are reading. Yes Burns wrote in both Scottish and English, but this is not the reason, that this write is wonderfully problematic. To begin with it is a Scots song titled “Is there for honest poverty”. However it is famous and more commonly known as a poem called “A Man’s a man for a’ that”. This explains the constant repetition of each stanza, it was meant to be sung and easily remembered. The style is like a Scottish folk song and is concerned with injured class pride. We can dress this up with lofty terms such as liberty, equality, brotherhood, liberalism, socialism and egalitarian ideals; which explains why the Russians loved Burns and even erected statues to him. After all he was the ploughman poet, a communist ideal.
Burns supported the American and French revolutions, he was a political poet, yet as a government employee, he could not express republican sympathies openly; least he lose his job and possibly his life. Therefore some language is coded and it would be appropriate for a Scots expert to comment on this. Interesting to note he did not write against slavery as other contemporary poets did, and considered moving to Jamaica in hopes of obtaining a higher social class, upon the profits of slavery, according to “Dr Gerard Carruthers, a lecturer in Scottish literature at the University of Glasgow.” Politics aside, I love the simple poetic poems of Robert Burns.
Burns appears to be touching on values of a man. Saying at the bottom line, HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY. or YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN. Though leaving out morale values of GOD, cuts his poem a bit short.
Burns wrote in Scots' language, dialect and in English but to suggest it confuses the message of the poem, well I respectfully disagree! Shakespeare wrote in Elizabethan dialect, some of the language he used is unfamiliar to my ears but when reading the works of a genius it is worth persevering! I love this poem and hear it as a song. It was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and it was a truely moving experience, many people had tears running down their faces. The Scotland Burns lived in was full of inequality and dominated by religious doctrine. He held up these to satire but never lost his humanity.
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