Structure and Persona

Overall structure

The poem falls into three stages:

Stanzas 1-3. The ploughman’s initial response to startling the mouse. He attempts to reassure the mouse, speaking gently and reflectively.

Stanzas 4-6. The upsetting realisation that, with the nest destroyed, the mouse’s survival is under serious threat.

Stanzas 7 and 8. The conclusion is a pessimistic comparison between mouse and ploughman, ending on the ploughman’s fears for the future.

The Standard Habbie

The Standard Habbie stanza has six lines, with longer lines 1-3 and 5 rhyming and short lines 4 and 6 rhyming only with each other. This poetic form allows the poet to build up some momentum on the first three rhyming lines and then do something different with the final three. The two short lines can provide a ‘kick’ or ironic aside. In To a Mouse, the final three lines generally intensify the mood, with a touch of drama, description or climactic declaration.

Persona

The narrative persona is very important when studying Burns. He has created a narrative voice, a ‘character’ or speaker, who speaks to us but also to an audience which might be the mouse, or the Devil or humanity. In To A Mouse the persona or speaker Burns has created is the humble farmer, ploughing on his own bit of land. This persona is, of course, very close to Burns himself.