Friday, January 31, 2014

" To a mouse, on turning her up in her nest with the plough" Robert Burns, 1785.

A blog friend has been having a lot to deal with lately, with kids and work.  So many women now have to take care of the kids and hold down a full time job. My wife had to do that.   I got to thinking of this poem, because it really highlights the fact that we can plan and prepare, but we can't see the future.  

Robert Burns wrote this poem when he was plowing up a field, and accidentally destroyed the home of a field mouse in the dead of winter.  I expect with all this bitter cold and the trouble it has caused so many of us , that we can empathize with the mouse as he did.

The translated version is on the internet but I like the original best.

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' murdering 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, whyles, 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 win's 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 turned 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 are blest, compared 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!


  1. I remember studying this poem in college. I had the most marvelous English Lit Since 1877 professor. He was older and the best reader of poetry I've ever heard.

    1. I had a professor like that. A tiny little guy, in a tweed suit and a bow tie. He'd have been better suited to Cambridge than New Mexico. Straight out of the 1930's. We read Canterbury Tales in Middle English.

  2. Now did you read that in your head with a Scottish accent? And not braveheart Scottish but Hamish MacBeth Scottish (tv programme from 1990's). Before Robert Carlyle was in Once Upon a time and James Bond, he was a police man in a TV series. I read it in his accent. It adds something I feel.

    1. On my fathers side, we are Scots Irish. I knew my great grandmother, and she had the original trunk that they brought to North Carolina in 1745. She knew all the stories about our family. I may get the "greats" wrong, but my great, great, great grandfather fought the British at Monmouth, and was captured there. He died on a British prison hulk. His son, Nathan, was in the same regiment (The North Carolina Line) and survived the war. Like a huge number of Southerners, we're proud of our ancestry.

      When I first read this poem, many years ago, the woman teaching the class had an uncanny ability to use the right dialect for whatever she was reading. She felt, and I agree, that the voice inflection and dialect were a big part of what the poet used to convey his story.