It is a Friday morning in Kansas in January. The weather is turning frightfully cold, a "weary winter comin' fast", and I sit here "cozie", coffee in hand in a warm room.
What of the creatures of the world who do not share such luxuries? Robert Burns wrote of one such creature - a mouse, whose cozy world came to an abrupt and unexpected end one winter's day.
He married his sweetheart, Jane Armour, over her parents' protests, but not before they had four children out of wedlock. After the marriage they had five more children. Meanwhile, Robert found time to have four other children by four other women.
One might guess that Robert Burns lived like the mouse - his "best laid plans" gone astray. Five women, eleven children, a failed farm, Robert Burns' later fame and fortune eluded him in life. Unlike the mouse Burns must have kept a fearful eye on his past, and another fearful eye on what was to be. One day, ploughing the fields of his farm, Robert turned up a mouse, and so inspired this poem.
He died on a cold winter's day of rheumatic fever at the age of 37. At the same time his wife was in labor with their ninth child.
TO A MOUSE ON TURNING HER UP IN HER NEST WITH THE PLOUGH, NOVEMBER, 1785
by: Robert Burns (1759-1796)
WEE, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
Oh, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I was 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
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,
And 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 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 mony 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 a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still thou art 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!
The Robert Burns Archive
Read more about the death of Robert Burns.