To a louse

On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

HA! wh'are ye gaun, ye crowlin' ferlie ! crawling wonder
Your impudence protects you sairly: well
I canna say but ye strunt rarely, strut
                 Owre gawze and lace; over
Tho' faith ! I fear ye dine but sparely,
                   On sic a place. such
Ye ugly, creepin', blastit wonner, wonder
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,
How dare ye set your fit upon her,
                   Sae fine a Lady!
Gae somewhere else, and seek your dinner,
                   On some poor body.
Swith, in some beggar's haffet squattle; swiftly
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle, scramble
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,
                   In shoals and nations;
Where horn nor bane ne'er dare unsettle,
                   Your thick plantations.
Now haud ye there, ye're out o' sight, hold on 
Below the fatt'rels, snug an' tight, ribbon ends 
Na faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
                   Till ye've got on it,
The very tapmost tow'ring height
                   O' Miss's bonnet.
My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out, bold
As plump and gray as onie grozet; any gooseberry
O for some rank mercurial rozet, resin
                   Or fell red smeddum, insecticide
I'd gie you sic a hearty doze o't,
                 Wad dress your droddum! would, backside
I wad na been surpris'd to spy
You on an auld wife's flannen toy; flannel cap
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy, perhaps, ragged
                 On's wyliecoat; On his flannel vest
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fie! bonnet
                   How daur ye do't ?
O Jenny dinna toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread! abroad
Ye little ken what cursed speed know
                   The blastie's makin'!
Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread They are winking & pointing
                   Are notice takin'!
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us !
It wad frae mony a blunder free us
                   And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
                   And ev'n Devotion!

Finally, a poem about somebody getting cooties!

This poem is a satire on the human condition.  Burns addresses a louse crawling on a lady's bonnet, but his real target is our pride & affectations.  The rich may be snobbish and imagine that they do not share in the afflictions of the poor, but lice, like death, come to everybody.  He claims to be surprised to see them on her bonnet--they should have been on some poor person.

The Lunardi bonnet was named for Vincenzo Lunardi, an Italian who worked at the embassy in London.  In 1785, the year the poem was written, Lunardi flew over Scotland in a balloon.  Fashionable ladies soon started wearing balloon-shaped bonnets.

Burns shows his belief in equality in this poem.  Equality was a popular belief in England & Scotland, as in the American colonies that had broken away 10 years earlier.  He also questions the value of religion, especially religious sanctimony.