Links to other poems

Compassion for others and social equity

  • To a Louse – throughout the poem the speaker considers the lowly status of the louse, questioning its presence in church. By the end of the poem, the speaker understands that this louse is a social leveller – it has no concept of social class or status.
  • To a Mouse - for the majority of the poem there is a tone of compassion towards a fellow creature in need. Burns appreciates the endeavours of the little mouse and feels guilt at having destroyed its nest.

Negative picture of humanity

  • To a Louse – the speaker considers the absurdity of social pretension, as he watches a louse crawl all over the fine attire of a churchgoing lady. Burns considers how social pretension is undercut by our ignorance towards others.
  • To a Mouse - having described the terrible plight of a mouse, caused by humanity’s dominating force, the poem suggests the parallels between this and the suffering of humanity facing an uncertain future.
  • Holy Willie’s Prayer - the pride, hypocrisy and vindictiveness of Willie are chilling, especially as he believes himself to be a member of God’s chosen Elect.

Celebrating aspects of ‘ordinary’ life

  • To a Louse – Burns shines a light on the living conditions of the impoverished and socially ostracised in this poem, drawing parallels with their humble existence and the attempts of Jenny (the girl in church) to present herself as being socially superior.
  • Tam O’Shanter - Tam is a flawed but relatable character, whose downfall stems from his lack of self-restraint when it comes to alcohol
  • To a Mouse – this small mouse is representative of the humble class of tenant farmers who worked the land for minimal return
  • A Red, Red Rose – in simplistic terms Burns renders the overwhelming intensity of being deeply in love, a universal human condition.
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