Sunday, May 31, 2009

Of Mice and Men

"I Yam What I Yam".

To A Mouse
By Robert Burns

On turning her up in her nest, with the plough, November, 1785
We again see how, in the words of Thomas Carlyl, the poet "rises to the high, stoops to the low, and is brother and playmate unto all of God's creation. ." This is, by readers gentle and readers simple, acknowledged to be one of the most perfect little gems that ever human genius produced. One of its couplets has passed into a proverb:- "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley!

Surely one of the finest poems written by Robert Burns, containing some of the most famous and memorable lines ever written by a poet, yet, to this day not really understood by the mass of English-speaking poetry lovers, for no other reason than that the dialect causes it to be read as though in a foreign language.All readers of Burns know of the "Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie" but not many understand the sadness and despair contained within the lines of this poem. What was the Bard saying when he was inspired by turning up a fieldmouse in her nest one day while out ploughing?
- George Wilkie


Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what 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' murd'ring pattle!

The poet is doing his utmost to assure this terrified little creature that he has no intention of causing it any harm. bickerin’ brattle =scurry, run; laith = loath; pattle = a small spade for cleaning a plough

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!

He then goes on to apologise to the mouse for the behaviour of mankind using beautiful prose which requires neither translation nor interpretation. Listen to what he is saying, and you will be well on your way to understand what made Burns such a greatly loved man. Note how he equates himself with the mouse in life’s great plan.

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!

Here he tells the mouse that he realizes its need to steal the odd ear of corn, and he does not really mind. He’ll get by with remainder and never miss it. daimen = occasional; icker = an ear of corn; thrave = twenty four sheaves; lave = remainder

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!

Dismay at the enormity of the problems he has brought on the mouse causes him to reflect on what he has done - destroyed her home at a time when it is impossible to rebuild. There is no grass to build a new home and the December winds are cold and sharp. Her preparations for winter are gone! Big = build; foggage = moss; baith = both

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
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.

Where the mouse had thought that she was prepared for winter in her comfortable little nest in the ground, now she is faced with trying to survive in a most unfriendly climate, with little or no hope in sight. cosie = comfortable; coulter; = iron cutter in front of a ploughshare.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie 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!

It seems probable that here the poet is really comparing his own hard times with that of the mouse – a life of harsh struggle, with little or no reward at the end. monie = many; thole = to endure; dribble = drizzle; cranreuch = hoar-frost; cauld = cold

But Mousie, thou are 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!

How many times have people glibly trotted out, “The best laid schemes” without realising that they were quoting from Burns? The sadness, the despair, the insight contained within this verse are truly remarkable and deeply moving. no ‘thy lane = not alone; gan aft agley = often go awry.

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!

This final verse reveals the absolute despondency that Burns was feeling at this stage in his life. Not at all what one might expect from a young man of twenty-six, supposedly so popular with the lassies, and with his whole life ahead of him, but nevertheless expressing sentiments with which many of us today can easily relate.

Thanks to George Wilkie for letting us have this explanation of this poem from his book, "Understanding Robert Burns".


The big fool that I be; I thought God would be happy here on this wee blog, but no! He is not about to be bottled up in obscurity only to be brought out at my convenience. It seems that I have learn a lesson. God is everywhere I go, and is very much alive in every part of what we know as creation.




The contributors to this web site seek to recall various crucial facts, which people are led to disregard and even deny under the influence of the turmoil of the modern age. One of these basic facts is that of creation, that the universe, living things and man, are not self-existing entities, but the artifacts of God, the Supreme Creator. We are all created by Him and to Him we will all return. Love, not knowledge (intellectual), is the bond between God and man. From God's love proceeds only what is good, and punishment is also inherently good. God's omnipotence is not merely infinite in time, but also in intensity.

This web site calls everyone from every corner of the world, from whatever cultural, racial, ethnic or social background to realize this basic fact and think of his duties to his Creator. In this message lies the real redemption and happiness of mankind.

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