Poems You Should Know: To A Mouse on Turning Up Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785, by Robert Burns

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine was humming a tune in the office. “I’m sure I know that from somewhere,” she mused. The tune was ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by Robert Burns (1759-1796), the Bard of Ayrshire, quite possibly the only poet to have an anniversary, Burns Night on the 25th of January (his birthday), dedicated to celebrating his life and poetry. Scotland’s national poet, who wrote in both English and lowlands Scottish dialect, was a forerunner of the English Romantic movement, and the natural imagery and human sentiment of the Romantics is evident in poems such as ‘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 prattle!

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!

They 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 ensuing,
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.

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