brown field mouse

Robert Burns: To A Mouse

Nature’s Poet Robert Burns was inspired by nature, writing ‘To A Mouse’ after disturbing one in her nest whilst ploughing.

Written in the November of 1785, using a similar style as ‘To a Louse’ or ‘To a Haggis’, the poet starts as a speaker talking to the mouse he has just disturbed whilst ploughing a field. Throughout the poem, the writing style and tone of language changes in a way associated with Burns and his incredible ability to adapt.

The mouse as his muse remains the focus and centre of thought throughout each stanza. He recognises this small life form with her needs for food and a safe, warm home. There is also a comparison to the fate of the mouse and that of man, as his mind wanders to think of the resemblance it has to mankind.

To A Mouse

On turning her up in her nest with the plough,

November 1785

Wee, sleekit, cowran, 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!
Its sill wa’s the wins 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 wast,
An weary winter comin fast,
An cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out throu thy cell.

That wee bit heap o leaves an stibble,
Has cost thee monie 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 backwards cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An forward, tho I canna see,
I guess an fear.

brown field mouse
To A Mouse

Some of Burns’ other famous work that were created from nature’s inspiration include The Wounded Hare and Red Red Rose. The walk between town and home during his years living at Ellisland Farm in Dumfries also resulted in Tam O’Shanter.

robert burns in watercolour album cover
The ‘Robert Burns in Watercolour’ Collection

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