Today I am using a poem by our National Bard, earlier this week we published an article on Robert Burns, so it seemed fitting to use one of the poems mentioned.
To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough was written by Burns in November 1785, and was featured in the Kilmarnock volume. According to legend, Burns was ploughing the fields and accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest, which it would have needed to survive the harsh Scottish winter.
To a Mouse
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, 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,
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 a 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.
Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony 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!
My favourite Burns Poem. For me, the context is crucial. Burns was inti the second year of a brutal start to his career as an independent farmer, he’d recently lost his father and his brother John. He had financial worries and had recently suffered a breakdown. And the relationship with Jean was far from a done deal. I think the destruction of the nest crystallises all these worries. He wasn’t the first poet to find a deeper universal truth in a small object, but he did it better than anyone. Sometimes his genius is on a different level.