To a Mouse

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"To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough"[1] (Scots: "Tae a Moose") is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1785, and was included in the Kilmarnock volume.[2] According to legend, Burns was ploughing in the fields and accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest, which it needed to survive the winter. In fact, Burns's brother claimed that the poet composed the poem while still holding his plough.[3]

The poem

Burns' original Translation
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie, Small, crafty, cowering, timid little beast,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie! Oh, what a panic is in your little breast!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty You need not start away so hasty
Wi bickering brattle! With argumentative chatter!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, I would be loath to run and chase you,
Wi' murdering pattle. With murdering plough-staff.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union, Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle Which makes you startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion At me, your poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal! And fellow mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve; I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
A daimen icker in a thrave An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
'S a sma' request; Is a small request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave, I will get a blessing with what is left,
An' never miss't. And never miss it.
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! Your small house, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin! Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane, And nothing now, to build a new one,
O' foggage green! Of coarse green foliage!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin, And bleak December's winds coming,
Baith snell an' keen! Both bitter and piercing!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste, You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
An' weary winter comin fast, And weary winter coming fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast, And cozy here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell, You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past Till crash! the cruel plough passed
Out thro' thy cell. Out through your cell.
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble, That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble! Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble, Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
But house or hald, Without house or holding,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble, To endure the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld. And hoar-frost cold.
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain: In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men The best laid schemes of mice and men
Gang aft agley, Go often askew,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promis'd joy! For promised joy!
Still thou are blest, compared wi' me! Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only toucheth thee: The present only touches you:
But och! I backward cast my e'e, When—ouch! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear! On prospects dreary!
An' forward, tho' I canna see, And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess an' fear! I guess and fear!

In other media

John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from a line contained in the penultimate stanza: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" (often paraphrased in English as "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry"). The 1997 novel The Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon also draws its title from this line, and so do the novel of the same name by Canadian author Terry Fallis and the film series based on it.

The first stanza of the poem is read by Ian Anderson in the beginning of the 2007 remaster of "One Brown Mouse" by Jethro Tull. Anderson adds the line "But a mouse is a mouse, for all that," at the end of the stanza, which is a reference to another of Burns's songs, "Is There for Honest Poverty", commonly known as "A Man's a Man for A' That".

The first line is also featured in Michael Morpurgo's "Private Peaceful", as the narrator Tommo remembers learning it in class after seeing a mouse in his trench.

Sharon Olds's poem "Sleekit Cowrin'" also references this poem.

In Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, mice are the physical protrusions into our dimension of a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings who commissioned construction of the Earth to find the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When their plans go wrong they lament that "the best laid plans of mice" don't always work out.

The Monty Python sketch 'Word Association' references the first line of the poem, and replaces the simple word "We" with "Wee sleekit cowerin' timorous beastie"[4]

See also


  1. Burns, Robert, To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, Country<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. Burns, Robert (1786). "Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect". Kilmarnock: John Wilson. p. 138. Retrieved 13 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

External links

  • McGown, George William Thompson. A Primer of Burns, Paisley : A. Gardner, 1907. Fully annotated version of To a Mouse, with historical background. pp. 9–20
  • Text of the poem can be found at 76. To a Mouse