Robert Burns – To A Mouse – Notes

Notes from class.

“To A Mouse”, perhaps Robert Burns’s most famous poem, was written in 1785. It looks at the impact of the destruction of a mouse’s nest on the life of the mouse, and uses it to explore how human beings should behave towards to one another. This essay will look at how Burns effectively gets his message across in the poem.

In the first stanza, Burns makes it easy to sympathise with the mouse. He describes it as “wee, cow’rin’, tim’rous” to show that the mouse is vulnerable. We get a strong impression here that the poet feels sorry for the mouse. Burns is saying here that we should sympathise with those who are weaker than ourselves.

The poet makes clear that he does not want to harm the mouse in the second stanza. After destroying the nest, he addresses the mouse directly, saying “thou need na’ start awa’ sae hasty”. This demonstrates that the mouse has nothing to fear, and the poet does not want to cause it any distress – he believes they are both equals. Burns is saying that both the strong and the weak have equal rights in the world – one is not better than the other.

Summarise your main points

Say how effective you think the poem has been

Throughout his poem, Burns uses the story of the plough and the mouse to show the relationship between the strong and the weak (or the rich and the poor). He suggests that the weak should not fear the strong, and that they have as much right to live as one another. This message makes the poem effective to me, because the idea that we should treat one another equally is important in the modern world, and one which we can all live by.


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