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To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest, With The Plough -- Robert Burns

Guest poem submitted independently by Suresh Ramasubramanian, and William Johns:
(Poem #776) To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest, With The Plough
 Wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie,
 O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
 Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
 Wi' bickering brattle!
 I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
 Wi' murd'ring pattle!

 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!

 I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
 What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
 A daimen icker in a thrave
 'S a sma' request;
 I'll get blessin wi' the lave,
 An' never miss't!

 Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
 It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
 An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
 O' foggage green!
 An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
 Baith snell an' keen!

 Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
 An' weary winter comin fast,
 An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
 Thou thought to dwell ---
 Till crash ! the cruel coulter past
 Out thro' thy cell.

 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,
 To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
 An' cranreuch cauld !

 But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
 In proving foresight may be vain;
 The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
 Gang aft agley,
 An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
 For promis'd joy !

 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!
-- Robert Burns
[Suresh's Commentary]

Robert Burns was born in 1759, Ayrshire, Scotland. He grew up on his
father's farm, and was self-taught. When he was just 15 years old, his
father died, saddling him with an  unproductive farm. His poetry gradually
became popular though, so much so that he published a book of poems in 1786
(aged 27) to finance a trip to Jamaica. The book sold much better than
anticipated, but Burns decided to go to Edinburgh and publish a "better"
second edition of his poems. He died only 10 years later at the early age of
37, but not before writing some excellent poetry such as "Auld Lang Syne"
(till today a staple of new year parties in England) and "To a mouse ...".

This poem has one immortal line, which has passed into (fairly) common
English usage -
  The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
  Gang aft agley,
Here's where Steinbeck got the title of his "Of Mice and Men", by the way.

The poem is written in his typical "broad scots" and deals with a field
mouse whose nest he apparently destroyed when plowing a field. Burns sees
the mouse scuttling out of its nest, cowering and shivering in terror (and
cold? it is mid-winter after all) in front of him. He starts off on the poor
mouse suffering because of his actions, and then reassures it that it only
has to fear the present, whereas he has had a dreary past, and "guesses and
fears" his unseen but easily guessed future.

Nothing at all would have differentiated this poem from the millions of
sentimental and tear-jerking verses churned out by assorted poets (and
ridiculed by several others) - but for the fact that Burns seems to have
opened his heart to the mouse, and speaks to it as if he's trying to cheer
up an old friend who has somehow fallen upon hard times.

The broad scots is an added bonus, making this poem a delight to read aloud
(or to listen to). For what it's worth, the "r"s are rolled out here, ...
rrrr ... almost like in French. has a version with hyperlinks to a
glossary of the scottish words.


[William's Commentary]

One of my favorites. When I was a kid, we caught a mouse in the kitchen. He
became the family pet, named "Wee sleeket cowran tim'rous beastie", and he
lived a long and happy life in his new home. Kind of the exact opposite of
what happened in the poem...


30 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Emily M. Cowan said...

For what it's worth, a comment on the "r"s in the broad Scots. I've been
to Scotland and was enchanted with the accent, and found it nothing like
the French r at all. The French r is made in the throat, almost like
gargling (tho nowhere near as gargled or throaty as German or Yiddish). I
would say the Scottish r is more like the Spanish r, which is made with the
tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth.

Userkat1234 said...

what does the poem mean?

Viagra Online said...

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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

floihasoghohgoahe oghaosedghoasheogaeg

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

No metahan ro shekur sen ah ahy be doun?

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