Today (July 21st) is the anniversary of Robert Burns’ death. Usually we celebrate his birthday on January 25 with Burns suppers the world over, but it seems a pity to only consider his poetry once a year. To mark the passing of Scotland’s national bard in 1796 at the age of just 37, here is a poem of his that you might not hear at a Burns supper. Burns penned songs and poems on many subjects, some rather unexpected. This one, to a mouse he found in one of his fields while ploughing, is no exception. Despite being written more than 230 years ago, some of the poem’s sentiments seem entirely in keeping with modern environmental concerns.
To a Mouse
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
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ requet;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its 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 ensuing,
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 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,
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 cannot see,
I guess an’ fear!
Robert Burns, 1785
You can find an English translation of this and many other of Burns’ songs and poems on the website of the Robert Burns World Federation: http://www.robertburnsfederation.com/poems/translations/554.htm