To a Louse

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"To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church" is a 1786 Scots language poem by Robert Burns in his favourite meter, standard Habbie.[1] The poem's theme is contained in the final verse:

Burns original

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

Standard English translation

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

In this poem the narrator notices a lady in church, with a louse that is roving, unnoticed by her, around in her bonnet.[2] The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, humans are all equal prey, and that they would be disabused of their pretensions if they were to see themselves through each other's eyes.[3] An alternative interpretation is that the poet is musing to himself how horrified and humbled the pious woman would be if she were aware she was harbouring a common parasite in her hair.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rumens, Carol (13 October 2008). "Poem of the week: To a Louse". The Guardian.
  2. ^ "Robert Burns - To a Louse". BBC. 2014.
  3. ^ "'To a Louse': A Poem by Robert Burns". Interesting Literature. 9 December 2018.