Robert Burns’ Touching Ecocentric Empathic poem- To a Mouse

28 Mar

Robert Burns’ Touching Ecocentric Empathic poem- To a Mouse

Robert Burns was born in 1759, in Alloway, Scotland, and throughout his life he was a practicing poet. He is considered by many the national poet of Scotland. 

To a Mouse’  describes the unfortunate situation of a mouse whose home was destroyed by the winter winds.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that he knows about the nature of the mouse. It is small and scared of the presence of humans. The speaker understands why this is the case and sympathizes. The speaker is clearly upset over the mouse’s fear and wishes that it did not have to feel the way it does. In the third line, he tells the mouse that it does not have to fear him. It should not “start awa sae hasty,” or run away so quickly because the speaker would never “rin an’ chase” the little “beastie.” He has no desire to chase after, and murder the mouse with a “pattle.” He is not like those the mouse has come to fear. 

In the second stanza, the poet begins apologizing to the mouse for the nature of humankind. They have had “dominon” over the world and been unwilling to accept creatures that are not like them. Unfortunately, the mouse is a very high on this list. In “Man’s” desire to control all parts of the world “he” has “broken Nature’s social union.” Humans are a disruption in the chains of nature, forcing creatures to act as they normally would not. 

The speaker tells the mouse that it is fully “justi[fied]” in how it feels. Rightfully so, he states, the mouse should have an “ill opinion” of man. Humans “make thee startle.” 

In the last lines, the speaker mourns the state of the world and the lack of community between humans and non-human animals. He calls the mouse an “earth-born companion” and a “fellow-mortal.” They are one and the same, living at the same time on the same planet. 

In the third stanza, the speaker addresses the way the mouse lives. In the first lines, he tells the mouse he understands that “thou may thieve.” The fact that the mouse must steal food from humans does not bother the speaker. It is not the mouse’s fault that it has been degraded to this level. The mouse is only a “poor beastie” which “maun” or “must” live. 

One of the food items which is stolen by the mouse is a “daimen-icker” or ear of corn. When one steals one from a “thrave” or a bundle of twenty-four, it is only a “sma’” or “small” thing. He will give the mouse his “blessin” through the food it steals. The speaker will “never miss” that which goes missing. 

At the halfway point of this piece, the speaker turns to address the “housie” in which the mouse lives. It is no grand structure, it is “in ruin!” The walls are weak and are often “strewin” by the wind. Although the wind has blown down the walls of the mouse’s nest, or “housie,” it does not have the materials to make a new one. It is not the right time of year to find the “green” it needs. Unfortunately, it is going to be December soon, the “winds [are] ensuin” or “ensuing.” 

The speaker finally turns to the mouse’s current situation. He understands that the mouse tried to shelter in a “field” where it could “cozie…beneath the blast.” It was here it “thought to dwell but then, “crash!” The wind and its “cruel” nature came through and destroyed the home it has built. 

It was made from minimal materials but cost the mouse a lot. All of the work has gone to waste as the wind has “turn’d” the mouse out of its home. It now has to face the “Winter’s sweetly dribble” and “cranreuch” or frost. 

In the second to last stanza the speaker wants the mouse to understand that it is not alone. Often one’s plans go awry, and “foresight” may often be in “vain” or pointless when one never knows what’s going to happen.

The speaker states that “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.” There is no real way to predict what the world will throw at you. The “you” to whom the speaker refers is humankind, non-human animals, and all living things on the planet. It is universal that plans will fall apart. 

On the other hand, the speaker is able to “backward cast” his “e’e.” His prospects appear “dear,” when basing them on what has happened to him previously. Then when he looks forward in time he “canna see” or cannot see, the “fears” which may come for him. A very dark and foreboding prospect is always possible. 

Translation and analysis by Emma Baldwin


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