Robert Burns

Romantic Poetry

Interesting Facts

  • Robert Burns spent his early life as a poor tenement farmer, but did not enjoy it.
  • In his spare time he wrote songs and poems loosely based on his illicit relationships and illegitimate children.
  • Robert Burns married Jean Armour in 1788 and had 12 children with Jean and other women.
  • Burns died at age 37 from bacterial endocarditis secondary to chronic rheumatic heart disease.
  • It is claimed that Michael Jackson's Thriller is inspired by Burns' poem Tom O'Shanter.
  • John Steinbeck took the title of his book Of Mice and Men from a line from Burns' poem 'To a Mouse'.
  • There is a replica of Robert Burns' Alloway cottage in Atlanta.
The Story of Robert Burns
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Alloway, Scotland

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Atlanta, Georgia

To A Mouse

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,

Wi’ bickerin brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee

Wi’ murd’ring 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 winds 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 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 backward cast my e’e,

On prospects drear!

An’ forward tho’ I canna see,

I guess an’ fear!

Summary

The speaker is plowing through a field when he accidentally turns up a mouse's nest and terrifies the mouse. He realizes that mice have every reason to be scared of humans, so he apologizes on behalf of all humankind. It takes careful planning for mice to build their nests or get their food, but humans can get rid of it in an instant. In the end, he compares this to humans' lives in that no matter how well-laid out your life is, it can be completely changed immediately. We should live in the present and not look to the past with regret or the future with fear.

Literary Devices

Metaphor
  • The whole poem is a metaphor for the speaker's life.

Personification

  • The mouse is personified when he describe's its nest as a house.

Alliteration

  • bickering battle
  • weary Winter
  • beneath the blast
  • Mice an' Men

Analogy

  • Connection between the speaker and the mouse
  • They're both born on earth and are both mortal
Living In the Moment (Lyrics) - Jason Mraz