The (other) Bard

Okay, I'm a few days late, but I figured I had to say something about Robert Burns. After all, I do have some Scotch in me...
(No, not that scotch...)

76. To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

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!


(Here's a side-by-side Modern English translation, for those of you who can't be bothered to sound out the thick dialect. Here's a stanza-by-stanza commentary for those without a rustic imagination.)

It's not "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" (One of Burns' more popular and sentimental verses) but there's something undeniably charming about the farmer who's stopped to address the mouse that hides in his field.
Speaking of a collaborator on the compilation of traditional Scotch verse, Burns once wrote in a letter to a friend that "What to me appears to be the simple and the wild, to him, and I suspect to you likewise, will be looked on as the ludicrous and the absurd." I suppose this means I'll have to be counted among the Romantics.

What's most surprising about this poem (now that I've read it again after all these years since Dr. Hales' survey of the period in the second year of my BA) is that I can't help but see this "agricultural apostrophe" aspect of the Romantic lyrical tradition in progressive rock. The most obvious parallel for this poem comes from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson (who readily admits his inspiration.) Until now, I'd never really considered this connection between my Romanticized agricultural upbringing, my professional interest in poetry, and my appreciation for 1970s Prog Rock. It seems all those hours spent listening to ten-minute synthesizer solos weren't a complete waste after all.

"One Brown Mouse"
From Heavy Horses

Smile your little smile --- take some tea with me awhile.
Brush away that black cloud from your shoulder.
Twitch your whiskers. Feel that you're really real.
Another tea-time --- another day older.

Puff warm breath on your tiny hands.
You wish you were a man
who every day can turn another page.
Behind your glass you sit and look
at my ever-open book ---
One brown mouse sitting in a cage.

Do you wonder if I really care for you ---
Am I just the company you keep ---
Which one of us exercises on the old treadmill ---
Who hides his head, pretending to sleep?

Smile your little smile --- take some tea with me awhile.
And every day we'll turn another page.
Behind our glass we'll sit and look
at our ever-open book ---
One brown mouse sitting in a cage.


If the Scotch Bard inspired Jethro Tull, perhaps Pink Floyd was inspired by William Wordsworth? Was Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway a meditation on Blake's Songs of Innocence?

Perhaps a better question: why am I doing this instead of working on things that will actually count for my MA?

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