More about this poem
'Why should na poor folk mowe,' often published under the more polite title 'When Princes and Prelates', was enclosed in a letter from Burns to his friend Robert Cleghorn (a co-member of the Edinburgh drinking club, the Crochallan Fencibles) on 12 December 1792. This song also appears in the collection of bawdy song The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799).
In this bawdy political song, Burns subverts the social hierarchy by pointing out that the so-called lower classes command a most powerful political weapon; what he considers to be their expert ability to reproduce.
In this particular song, the power and significance of sexuality and human reproduction is symbolised by the success of the French revolution. And so, the common masses surmount the European ruling class, who are portrayed as sexually and ultimately politically impotent.
For Burns, sex and reproduction are central to humanity, and therefore true authority lies with common man, united and made powerful by their sexuality. Burns's reference to the common folk as 'poor bodies' is not intended to provoke pity.
Rather, this is a defiant song that advocates the triumph of sex over social class, and so common man is depicted as comparatively content when considered alongside the troubled monarchs of Europe and their unsuccessful battles with republican France.