The Scottish bard Robert Burns wrote some of the best known poetry in the English language, including Auld Lang Syne, My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose, and Coming Through the Rye. Given this stature, some probably consider it foolish, perhaps even blasphemous, for us to edit his poetry when we present them as songs. Although we understand that perspective, here's why Cordelia and I do it anyway.

Reason #1 - As a born-and-raised Kansans, our Scottish accents sounds fake - not unlike those bad English accents you hear at Renaissance festivals. Others are better at it, but we are not. HOWEVER - Burns wrote in the Scottish dialect, so it's impossible to perform his songs as he wrote them without attempting a heavy Scottish accent. For example...

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 cuif for a' that.
Trying saying THAT before coffee some morning and see how real it sounds to you!

Reason #2 - It is difficult for people to figure out what the heck he's talking about. For example, "cuif" - "birkie" - "wha" - "ca'd" --- huh? As POETRY people might take the time to figure out the meaning, but as SONGS we think his meaning is too often just lost in passing. What a shame!

Reason #3 - Without editing, some of his best poems would become VERY long songs. Their length might be fine as poetry, but most of our attention spans are too short these days for lyrics that go on and on. Would you really want to hear someone sing all 238 lines of Tam O'Shanter? If not, then someone needs to whittle them down a bit.

Admitedly, this "whittling down" approach is more controversial with his shorter works. For instance, as a former high school and college English teacher, I enjoy the rich details in his original version of the poem "A Man's a Man for A' That." As a SONG, however, I think the rhythm works better with fewer lines, simplified ideas and more repetition. Therefore, we cut out about half of the original lines then edited.

Robert Burns
January 25th, 1759 July 21st, 1796
Reason #4 - Many of his songs and poems are actually re-writes of popular folk music of his time. For example, a song entitled "Auld Lang Syne" was published long before his, yet it's Burns who gets credit since his re-write was so much superior to the original. So, it's not like Burns didn't himself engage in a significant amount of re-writing.

With all this in mind, we hope Burns purists will forgive our edits & re-writes. We suspect Burns would.

For instance:


"A Man's a Man for A' That"
(As written by Robert Burns, 1795)

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 hodding grey, an a' that?
Gie fools their silk, and knaves their wine -
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an 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 cuif 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 aboon his might -
Guid faith, he mauna 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 brithers be for a' that.

"A Man's a Man For All That"
Burns as edited by Larry Carter, 2003
All Rights Reserved

But for honest poverty,
A man's a man for all that.
The lowly slave you pass by
He could be you for all that.
For all that, and all that,
He could be you for all that.
The lowly slave you pass by
A man's a man for all that.

And though on simple food we dine
Wear woolen grey, and all that.
Give fools their silk, knaves their wine
Their dignities and all that.
For all that, and all that,
Dignities and all that.
Fools in silk, knaves in wine
A man's a man for all that.

And see yon knave they call a lord,
He struts and stares, and all that.
Though hundreds worship at his word
He's still a fool for all that.
For all that, and all that.
He's still a fool for all that.
Though hundreds worship at his word
A man's a man for all that.

So let us pray that come what may
As come it will for all that.
That sense and worth o'er all the earth
Shall come to pass for all that.
For all that, and all that,
Come to pass for all that.
Sense and worth o'er all the earth,
Shall brothers be for all that.








Again, as POETRY we greatly prefer the original. As a SONG, however, we believe the shorter length and greater repetition (that is, turning the last half of each stanza into a chorus) aids in listeners understanding Burns' intent. At least that's our story, and we're sticking by it.

If YOU decide to use our versions, please let me know first and credit appropriately. Thanks.

Larry & Cordelia, Forest Green, 2008
www.ForestGreenMusic.Com


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