To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, by Robert Burns
There’s a reason Address to a Haggis is at the top of my Top Posts list today. Tonight is Burns Night! Here’s my favorite Robert Burns poem.
To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough
by Robert Burns
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, 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
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 win’s 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 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 canna see,
I guess an’ fear!
Here it is beautifully read for Librivox by Charles MacDonald.
There’s a translation into standard modern English on wikipedia. It’s not the translation I’m familiar with, though. Instead of “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry,” it has the less rhythmic “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew”. I wonder if the translator thought they shouldn’t use the common expression, for clarity’s sake. Or maybe it’s something only I grew up hearing, and is not as common as I thought it was.
Anyway, happy Robert Burns Day, or Burns Night, as the case may be.
Seems like other poets ought to get holidays, too. Who would you nominate?