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To a Mouse,
ON TURNING UP HER NEST WITH THE PLOW,
"To a Mouse" and "To a Mountain Daisy," by Robert Burns (1759-96), are the ineffable touches of tenderness that illumine the sturdy plowman. The contrast between the strong man and the delicate flower or creature at his mercy makes tenderness in man a vital point in character.
[The lines "To a Mouse" seem by report to have been composed while Burns was actually plowing. One of the poet's first editors wrote: "John Blane, who had acted as gaudsman to Burns, and who lived sixty years afterward, had a distinct recollection of the turning up of the mouse. Like a thoughtless youth as he was, he ran after the creature to kill it, but was checked and recalled by his master, who he observed became thereafter thoughtful and abstracted. Burns, who treated his servants with the familiarity of fellow-labourers, soon afterward read the poem to Blane."
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
Oh, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou needna start awa' sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin and chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion
I doubtna, 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,
And never miss 't!
Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin'!
And naething now to big a new ane
O' foggage green,
And bleak December's winds ensuin',
Baith snell and keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare and waste,
And weary winter comin' fast,
And cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till, crash! the cruel coulter passed
Out through thy cell.
That wee bit heap o' leaves and 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,
And cranreuch cauld!
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley,
And lea'e us naught but grief and pain,
For promised joy.
Still thou art blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, och! I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I canna see,
I guess and fear.