To a Mouse

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785"[1][2] is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1785, and was included in the Kilmarnock volume[3] and all of the poet's later editions, such as the Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh Edition). According to legend, Burns was ploughing in the fields and accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest, which it needed to survive the winter. In fact, Burns's brother claimed that the poet composed the poem while still holding his plough.[4]

The poem[edit]

Side by side comparison
The original Scots English translation

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a pannic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering 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, whiles, 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.

Thy 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 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![5]

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

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, that you may steal;
What then? Poor 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 green foliage!
And bleak December's winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
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 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 Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
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![citation needed]

In other media[edit]

John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from a line contained in the penultimate stanza: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" (often paraphrased in English as "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry"). The 1997 novel The Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon also draws its title from this line, and so does the novel of the same name by Canadian author Terry Fallis and the film series based on it.

The 1937 Fleischer Studios Color Classics cartoon, "A Car-Tune Portrait", makes reference to the poem. Near the very end of the cartoon, upon giving up with the musical performance, the conductor is quoted as saying, "Alas, alas. The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

The first stanza of the poem is read by Ian Anderson in the beginning of the 2007 remaster of "One Brown Mouse" by Jethro Tull. Anderson adds the line "But a mouse is a mouse, for all that" at the end of the stanza, which is a reference to another of Burns's songs, "Is There for Honest Poverty", commonly known as "A Man's a Man for A' That".

The first line is also featured in Michael Morpurgo's "Private Peaceful", as the narrator Tommo remembers learning it in class after seeing a mouse in his trench.

Sharon Olds's poem "Sleekit Cowrin'" also references this poem.

In Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, mice are the physical protrusions into our dimension of a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings who commissioned construction of the Earth to find the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When their plans go wrong they lament that "the best laid plans of mice" don't always work out.

The Monty Python sketch 'Word Association' references the first line of the poem, and replaces the simple word "We" with "Wee sleekit cowerin' timorous beastie".[6]

Tom Clancy's President Jack Ryan quotes Burns' famous line, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley" in the 2013 novel Command Authority.

The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 episode 9 "Best Laid Plans" takes its name from this poem.

Netflix’s series Atypical season 3 episode 1 “Best Laid Plans” takes its name from the poem.

Netflix's series Narcos season 3 episode 6 “Best Laid Plans” references the poem

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burns, Robert, To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785.
  2. ^ Burns, Robert, To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785.
  3. ^ Burns, Robert (1786). "Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect". Kilmarnock: John Wilson. p. 138. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  4. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. 2012. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton. Print.
  5. ^ Burns Country Includes annotations
  6. ^ "Monty Python: Word Association".

External links[edit]

  • McGown, George William Thompson. A Primer of Burns, Paisley : A. Gardner, 1907. Fully annotated version of To a Mouse, with historical background. pp. 9–20
  • Text of the poem can be found at 76. To a Mouse