My Journey With Nature

To a Mouse – On Turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough 1785, a poem by Robert Burns.

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“To a Mouse” translated into modern English

Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,

O, what a panic is in your little breast!

You need not start away so hasty

With argumentative chatter!

I would be loath to run and chase you,

With murdering plough-staff.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion

Has broken Nature’s social union,

And justifies that ill opinion

Which makes you startle At me,

your poor, earth-born companion

And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;

What then? Poor little beast, you must live!

An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves

Is a small request;

I will get a blessing with what is left,

And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!

Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!

And nothing now, to build a new one,

Of coarse grass green!

And bleak December’s winds coming,

Both bitter and keen!

You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,

And weary winter coming fast,

And cozy here, beneath the blast,

You thought to dwell,

Till crash! The cruel plough passed

Out through your cell.

That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,

Has cost you many a weary nibble!

Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,

Without house or holding,

To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,

And hoar-frost cold.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men

Go often awry,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!

The present only touches you:

But oh! I backward cast my eye,

On prospects dreary!

And forward, though I cannot see,

I guess and fear!

I’m half Scottish. A Malcolm on my mother’s side. I’m also a Naturalist/Ecologist and a great admirer of poetry, the romantic poets, and the romantic period in England. Burns was a pre-romantic poet and is the national poet of Scotland. I think it’s important to remember the period in history that he wrote his poetry.

It was during my 11th grade English Literature class that I first read “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns. The poem made quite an impact on me on many levels. I could just feel the pain it caused Burns upon discovering he had ruined this poor mouse’s nest. Also, he felt that he and the mouse were both on the same level as “earthborn companions.” I feel the same way about our fellow inhabitants on our planet. We are all in this together. Then there is the line, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men go often awry,” The depth of feeling and understanding of human nature in this one line is overpowering.

There is so much more to explore about this poem. I think for now placing all living creatures on the planet on the same level as far as sharing the planet and all of us, plants and animals, trying every day to make a living and survive is enough.

One more thing about Robert Burns. He wrote “Auld Lang Syne.” in 1788.

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I will say this, for someone who was, for a period in his life, a poor tenant farmer. Someone who did not have the comforts that many of us enjoy today. Robert Burns, for centuries now, has inspired mankind to appreciate that we are all part of nature, to reflect on our lives and be the best we can be so we don’t go awry too often. And to honor our feelings of nostalgia and love of old relationships from times gone by.

“To a Mouse” As Burns wrote it in Scottish Dialect

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!

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