To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough, November, 1785
By Robert Burns

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,
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 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.

That 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!

Of Mice and Men

In this poem, a farmer (the author, Robert Burns) empathizes with a mouse whose home he has inadvertently destroyed with his plough. The mouse will most certainly perish since it cannot build another nest before winter sets in. Seeing the frightened mouse run away as if Burns was some kind of terrible god or monster, the poet does not feel powerful. Instead he has a humbling epiphany.

The lives of mice and men are bound by an unbending will to survive and tame the forces of nature, to create order in an unrelentingly cruel and chaotic world. Good fortune is not only a product of hard work and foresight -- as represented by the farmer -- but also luck, the tides of which can easily turn against us -- as represented by the mouse's plight. Burns realizes that despite our best efforts, life is ultimately untamable, whether we realize this truth in sudden misfortune or late in the infirmity of old age.

Burns concludes that he is actually worse off than the mouse, because the mouse doesn't have regrets and it doesn't have to reflect on its past or ponder its destiny. Awareness makes us human; but our pride, arrogance, and ignorance are reflected in a lack of empathy for the other animals with whom we share this world. We take for granted our own precarious existence on this earth until our fortunes are reversed. By showing compassion for the poor and meekly mouse, Burns demonstrates humility, and ultimately, enlightenment through his awareness of the human condition.


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