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"To a Mouse" - Robert Burns

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Athina Navarro

on 17 December 2013

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Transcript of "To a Mouse" - Robert Burns

"To a Mouse" - Robert Burns
Analysis of the speaker
Biographical
Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, which was a Scottish village in the United Kingdom.
He was born into poverty, as he did not receive a full formal education, but instead he studied the Bible, Shakespeare, and Alexander Pope and was influenced by his mother’s love for Scottish folk songs, legends, and proverbs
He published his first collection of poems, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786, which included “To a Mouse”
It was a huge success and was well received by both critics and country folks.
Burns was known as “The Voice of Scotland” and was hailed as the “heaven taught plowman”
His poems are written in mostly dialect and are characterized by their natural, direction, and spontaneous quality, which drew on the ballad tradition of Scotland.
When he died, thousands of people from all social classes followed his coffin to his grave.
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Paraphrase:
Throughout the whole poem, the speaker reflects on the mouse. In the beginning, the speaker tells the mouse that it does not have to worry for stealing a piece of grain. He reflects on the mouse's troubles and reasons that the mouse only stole to survive for the upcoming winter. The speaker envies the mouse because the mouse only lives in the present and doesn't think about the future. This contrast with the speaker who lives worrying about the future and reflecting on the disappointment of his previous plans. The author states that even the best plans do not turn out as expected.
Purpose

The speaker’s tone changes throughout the poem; at first he is apologetic to the mouse after he realizes the troubles the mouse must go through and later is envious of the mouse because it lives for the present.
Shifts:
There two main shifts. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker feels sympathetic and apologetic to the mouse. He reflects on the mouse and his troubles.
EX:I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union .
The speaker then becomes envious of the mouse since the author lives with worries about the future and regrets about the past, unlike the mouse.
EX: Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
In order to make the shifts the speaker uses but, still, how, and thou.
EX: Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
EX:Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:

EX:But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!
The speaker of the poem, “To a Mouse”, is most likely the poet, Robert Burns, or someone else of Scottish descent. This is demonstrated by the Scottish dialect in the poem that utilizes slang, such as “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie”. The speaker’s overall attitude in the poem seems to be remorseful as he spends most of the poem apologizing to the mouse and reflecting on its troubles. The speaker believes that the mouse has an advantage over him because instead of planning ahead for the future, the mouse mainly lives for the present. The speaker believes that even the best plans can turn out to be failures and states that the mouse is lucky since he lives in disappointment and fear as he reflects on his failed plans and worries about his future ones.

Fun facts:
- Robert Burns had 14 children.
- There is an app dedicated specifically to Burn’s works.
- Burns has a birthplace museum.

Connotation:
The poet chooses to ignore the rigid and formal grammar structure that was common at the time and instead uses informal speech, such as slang. There is irony in although the mouse lives a harsh life, the speaker envies the mouse because it only lives for the present. The speaker uses alliteration when he exclaims, “Till crash!” He also uses imagery to explain the troubles of the mouse. EX: Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! hes describing what the mouses house seems like, small and smashed to pieces. The poet uses alliteration throughout the poem; for example he says, “Till crash! the cruel coulter past”.

Title:
The title refers to the speaker’s reflection of an encounter with a mouse and the speakers apology and admiration to it.
Theme:
The text demonstrates that planning ahead is not always the best option. Sometimes it is better to live in the present, like the mouse. the speaker, unlike the mouse, does plan ahead but notices that he has many regrets about the past and has worries about the future. In other words, man and nature both have plans, but they don’t always turn out as expected.
Robert Burns’ purpose of this poem is to teach a lesson. The poet argues that it is not always better to plan ahead because often the plans will not turn out as expected and cause disappointment. The speaker uses the mouse as an example of someone/something that lives for the present; the mouse steals grain without thinking of the possible future consequences. The speaker comments that he is envious of the mouse because he has many regrets about the past and fears about the future. This is most apparent in the last two stanzas.
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin 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, 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 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 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!

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!"

"To a Mouse" -Robert Burns

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Attitude:
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