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To A Mouse

by Robert Burns

Robert Burns , affectionately known as "Rabbie" Burns, was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland.

Robert BurnsOn his birthday, Scots around the world celebrate with a Burns Supper, which includes haggis (To A Haggis), whisky, and toasting the lassies. This tradition, along with singing Auld Lang Syne each New Year's Eve, has been in place for well over the 200 years since his death.

Although Robert Burns grew up in a poor farming environment, his father did his best to see that his bright son received somewhat of an education. He taught all of his children reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history. Rabbie, who was an avid reader, learned the fine points of his own language as well as English and some French. His love of literature lead to the writing of a large, popular collection of poems. Regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, he was a great influence to William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Robert Burns is also known for resurrecting the Scottish vernacular and rescuing hundreds of Scottish folk songs through his wonderful poetry. This has sealed his immortality as a poet.

While ploughing one of his fields one day, the Ploughman Poet happened to disturb a mouse's nest. Upon doing so, he wrote one of his finest and most memorable poems To A Mouse On Turning Up Her Nest with the Plough, more commonly known as To A Mouse. It contains one of the most famous lines ever written by a poet. Below are both Burns’ original poem and a Standard English translation of it.

Robert Burns' famous quote adapted from To A Mouse

"The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry."


To A Mouse - Burns' Original Poem
 

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' 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! 


The Standard English Version

 

Small, sleek, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With a hurrying scamper!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With a murderous spade!

I'm truly sorry that Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startled
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not that you may steal;
So what? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear from twenty four sheaves of corn
is a small request:
I'll get a blessing with the rest,
And never miss it!

Your tiny housie, too, is in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are strewing!
And nothing now, from which to build a new one
Of foliage green!
And bleak December's winds ensuing
Both bitter and keen!

You saw the fields laid bare and wasted
And weary Winter coming fast,
And cosy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Until crash! the cruel plow passed
Right through your cell.

That tiny heap of leaves and stubble (grain stalks)
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out for your trouble
Without house or home (belongings),
To endure the Winter's sleety dribble,
and frosty cold.

But Mousie, you are not alone
In proving that foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes (plans) of mice and men
Go oft astray (oft go awry)
And leave us nothing but grief and pain
Instead of promised joy!

Still, you are blessed, compared with me!
Only this moment touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye
On prospects turned to sadness!
And though forward I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

 

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