Stanzas 4 - 6: Determination and resilience

Stanza 4

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Now haud you there

Stanza 4 opens with yet another command to the louse - telling it to stop what it is doing.

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out o’sight,/Below the fatt’rels (ribbons), snug and tight

The louse seems to have outsmarted its observer by hiding. The louse ignores the order. This adds to its depiction as something defiant, with no social decorum and no respect for social conventions.

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Na faith ye yet!

This exclamation shows the speaker's surprise at the determination of the little creature.

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the vera topmost, towrin height/ O’ Miss’s bonnet

Here the persona recognises the louse's sense of purpose. It's aim is to reach the very top of Jenny's bonnet. Alliterative juxtapositioning of topmost, towrin suggests the scale of feat undertaken by the louse, a feat which is slowly winning the bemused admiration of the speaker. Feminine rhyme of on it and bonnet seems purposely anglicised, as though to stress the higher social class of the lady.

The image of someone trying to 'reach the top' is a widely used metaphor for someone trying to achieve all they can. The louse has become an image of a 'social climber', someone trying to crawl out of a humble or poor background to better themselves.

Stanza 5

In contrast with the anglicised sounds used to describe Jenny, Burns returns to Scots dialect words in verse 5. (rozet, grozet, smeddum and droddum) help suggest the difference in social status between Jenny and the lowly louse.

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Or fell, red smeddum,/ I'd gie you sic a hearty dose o't,

Here, the bemused speaker suggests a shot of medicine (smeddum) as an antidote to the louse’s impudence. He claims that if he were in charges of administering the shot he would give the louse a lot of it.

Stanza 6

In stanza six contrast is created through Burns’ description of clothing worn by people in poverty and the fine dress of the woman he is watching in church. The persona claims that there would be no surprise in finding the louse scrabbling over an auld wife’s flainen cap (a flannel cap) or on a some bit dubbie (a muddy/dirty) wyliecoat (boy’s vest). To find it on Miss fine Lunardi (a fashionable bonnet) is outrageous. The rhetorical question with which the stanza ends draws our attention to the absurdity of social pretension. This forms the subject of the next stanza.