ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796)

To a Mouse, on Turning up Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie, small, sleek, cowering
Oh, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
               Wi' bickerin brattle! hurrying scamper.
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, loath
               Wi' murd'ring pattle! 6
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
               Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
               An' fellow-mortal! 12
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve; sometimes
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!  must
A daimen-icker in a thrave
               'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave, rest
               An' never miss 't! 18
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin! feeble walls
An' naething, now, to big a new ane, build . . . one
               O' foggage green! tough grass
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
               Baith snell an' keen! piercing 24
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
               Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past plough
               Out thro' thy cell. 30
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
             But house or hald, without house or home
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble, endure
              An' cranreuch cauld! hoar-frost 36
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men
              Gang aft agley, go oft amiss
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pai,n
               For promis'd joy! 42
Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
               On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
               I guess an' fear! 48



Written 1785.
Original Publication: Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock, 1786).

According to Robert Burns's brother Gilbert, Robert Burns composed the poem while ploughing, after he had turned up a mouse's nest and had saved the mouse from the spade of the boy who was holding the horses.

6. pattle: a small long-handled spade for removing clay from the ploughshare.

7ff.  The second stanza shows Burns' insight into the order of nature.  Humans are kin to the animals around them.  Burns' love for the lowly man in "A man's a man for a' that" extends to the animal kingdom here.

15. daimen-icker: occasional ear of wheat.
a thrave: twenty-four sheaves of wheat, each sheaf measuring thirty inches around.  In other words, the mouse eats a tiny amount of Burns' wheat.

22.  Foggage: "rank grass which has not been eaten in summer, or which grows among grain, and is fed on by horses and cattle after the crop is removed"  (Jamieson, qtd in Kinsley 3: 1093)

39-40.  Two of Burns' most famous lines.  The plans we make for the future cannot keep things from going wrong.

43-48.  Humans are worse off than animals because animals live only in the present.  Humans, on the other hand, can regret the past & can fear the future.