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To a Mouse

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie, O, what a 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! 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. 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 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!


Brian Cox
Tom Fleming
Stella Gonet

Cathy MacDonald


Richard Wilson

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1785 and is read here by Brian Cox.

More about this poem

The title of this poem indicates the inspiring event, and Gilbert Burns collaborates that indeed Burns composed the verses on the same day he bereaved the 'tim'rous beastie' of its 'wee-bit housie'.

The 'poet-ploughman' has been taken quite literally in this case! In the poem the mouse's hard work is destroyed in one fail swoop, and now it will be forced to suffer through the hard Scottish winter despite its careful preparations.

Man is equally vulnerable to disaster, and, as a tenant farmer, Burns was particularly aware that the best laid plans may often go awry. However, man suffers even more through worry than the mouse that only lives in the moment.

Much has been made of this poem's connection to Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a key text in the moral philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Burn's regret at breaking 'Nature's social union' echoes Smith's notion that all earthly creatures are bound together through benevolent exchange. Burns was an early advocate against cruelty to animals. Men who derive pleasure from the pain of animals receive the wrath of his pen.

Megan Coyer

Themes for this poem

nature future poverty

Locations for this poem


Selected for 02 November

One of the Bard's most celebrated poems was written after he had disturbed a rodent's nest in the field he was ploughing. Another farmer might have looked with detachment or even irritation upon the displaced pest. A different poet would have produced unfeeling burlesque. Not the nature loving Bard. Instead of comical vermin, Burns saw a fellow creature with whose suffering he could identify. He too knew what eviction meant. And unlike the 'timorous beastie' in the newly turned over furrow, he was conscious of past sorrow and 'prospects drear'. And of course, one poignant text begat another. John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' took its title from the masterpiece Robert Burns composed in November 1785.

Donny O'Rourke

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