January 9, 2018
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[Which makes thee startle At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, An’ fellow-mortal!]
This reminds me of Mariah’s remarks on the shared spiritual essence of mortal creatures (specifically from Buddhist thought) in Blake’s “The Fly” from “Songs of Innocence.” Here, though, there’s not much mention of spiritual unity. The speaker and mouse are united by their frailty–their vulnerabilty to hostile external forces and chance. The sense and imagery relate to the existentialist angst we associated with some of Blake’s poems, and in passing with the American writer Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The present poem is classic Burns–hinting of profound questions in seemingly commonplace situations.
What I couldn’t quite discern as I was reading was who was the mouse, and who was the farmer. It could be seen, from a regionalism lens, that the farmer is the one speaking with the heavy dialect, because it invokes and idea of pastoral, country life. Or, from an existential sense, the mouse could be speaking the more broken English because they are literally a simpler life form, and it would fall in line with the louder emphasis of natural science/philosophy. There are clues to each, but none that seemed like they couldn’t be interpreted in several different ways.
I would say it is from the perspective of the farmer because it is addressed in line 1 “To a mouse…”
Although, I do see from your opposing point of view how it could be from the narrative of the mouse because if we are being honest it seems as if man is as afraid of mice as mice are afraid of men. “O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”
It was more clarifying for me when the speakers talks about chasing with a mudering paddle. I couldn’t see the mouse doing that unless, of course, it was metaphorical or something.
“But, Mousie, thou art not 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!”
This passage from Robert Burn’s Poem “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough,” November, 1785, has been translated and used as inspiration for further work. I am familiar with the translation of “The best laid plans of mice and men,” but there are several out there. The work most familiar to me, inspired by this idea of mice and their plans being so ruined, just as people, especially colonized indigenous people, is Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” a work that has brought me much comfort over the years. It’s deep, compared to some, but only deep to anyone willing to really look at it.
White mice are characterized as experimenting on the human race, before earth is destroyed. The fact that earth was manufactured, and I won’t go on, since it would give spoilers to anyone willing to go look at the movie or read the book. The white mice are seen in a human way, just as Robert Burns brings the mice up to human level when he perceives that poor mousie saw the field available and was thinking of how harsh winter soon would be, so she made her nest. Poor Mousie had no idea there would be a plough. If you are a mouse in a field, why would you give any thought to anything human, such as their ploughs coming to dig up a nest you made way out in a seemingly abandoned field.
I also think of Lewis H. Morgan’s book “The American Beaver and His Works.” It’s not very common for authors to have an altruistic or respectful opinion of creatures that are not also human. Usually humans are given an admiration exclusively, not necessarily so well deserving when we really, truly, get to know the realities of humanity’s vices and immoral secret societies, etc., something non-human creatures, at least, do not contribute to. Creatures beyond human are intelligent, yet governed by instinct and natural laws that have nothing to do with morality, but mostly to do with hormones. If we were honest with ourselves, we would see that hormones have a great deal to do with our prison system being so massively full, but that’s another subject.
Poor Mousie is given a name of Mousie and is raised up, because a mouse would need to be raised to be spoken of in this manner by a human. Most humans gave no thought to mice, except to kill and burn them, to prevent the plague, to prevent disease, to prevent their storages of food from being eaten and ruined. Mice were seen as only pests, worse than dirt. Dirt was viewed as cleaner than a mouse. So, Robert Burns likens Mice to Men in his statement of “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley, An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”
Today we still say that and we don’t think of mice on as low a level as Robert Burns’ generation did. We have mice as pets of all things and even have genetically altered them to do dna research with them, placing human parts, such as an ear, inside them to see if we can grow human parts using their bodies with our dna, and we’ve altered rats to be hairless, for pets we dress up and put on our instagrams and facebooks to make money with posters, t-shirts, cups, calendars, anything to do with whatever mousie character we can make money with online. It’s a strange world, but not any stranger than Robert Burns’ day and not any stranger to us to read about mice or rats sinking tiny basketballs into tiny hoops for psychology classes, than it was for his generation to read about compassion and empathy, that they no doubt felt was displaced and odd, even biazarre, to feel for any mouse. He put the mouse in a different light, giving a non-human creature attributes that could later be used in children’s stories such as ABC Animals, and other stories where animals and geese are used to depict characteristics for children to divert them from the harshness of what they are learning, or perhaps to entertain them, so they might learn something they otherwise would have ignored if the story were presented with humans, such as themselves.
Is Burns trying to do this with his story? Is he making a statement about colonization and natives being ploughed up, their lands taken, ruined and used for the white man. I don’t know for sure. Further research might answer that question.
The takeaway from this stanza is that even the best plans can go wrong. Whether you’re a man or a mouse, sometimes planning is futile because the world is always changing and nothing is set in stone. I thought this idea reflected Burns’ own experiences with the death of his father and having to go to work with his brother at a young age.
The verbiage used here is specific to the Scottish region. The use of the word stell refers to a protective enclosure. Used to paint a regional feeling of the interactions between the scottish and the english. The overtones of Scottish nationalism are on display here, resilience and determination, have turned into people working for slave wages. Finally the final lines “But English gold has been our bane—Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!” ties in the name of the poem more effectively when you look at the definition of parcel, “a quantity or amount of something, especially as dealt with in one commercial transaction” then looking at the parcel of rogues being purchased with the English gold.
Indeed, Robert, this was the buying of Scotland, which was sold out to line the pockets of who? Well, it seems that this poem was written to protest the Act of Union, where members of the Scottish Parliament allegedly sold their votes for English gold. In a fairly recent book , it is offered that though there were bribes involved, they weren’t enough to sway the vote. The majority of the members of Scottish parliament, the author says, wanted to join the Union. Of course this whole matter is a current issue due to the Scottish Independence movement which argues that the union was illegitimate to begin with.
Why were the Scottish so money hungry for English gold? It appears that there was an attempt at colonization. The colony on the Panama isthmus failed and put many of the upper class in debt. Many saw that joining with the English as a much needed economic boost, and some required the bribes to change their minds. Thus England, who could never through force of arms, conquered Scotland with economic enticements.
This stanza made me think back to a theme I saw in Songs of Experience, the Fly, and wonder if this was a theme across the generation of writers. The perspective that man is no longer the greatest creature on earth, and that we should consider how our actions effect the other beings on this planet. The line ” I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, Has broken nature’s social union,” makes me think this. Nature was in unity until humanity showed up. Every plant and animal had their biome, any food or water you needed was supplied and had been for generations of plants and animals and the strong ate the weak. Things weren’t “civilized” but nature had a perfect yin and yang. Burns like Blake and maybe a lot of other writers at this time, trying to think about the larger picture and not being so selfish as writers before them. Made the movement of the sciences at this time helped get into this new perspective.
I watched a YouTube lecture at the Library of Commerce by Dr. Arun Sood.
He mentions in his lecture how Robert Burns’ work has spread worldwide.
Robert Burns was not singular and isolated, but was privy to a whole world of nations, trading not just objects, but ideas, songs, cultural ideas.
Dr. Sood talked about the collective and cultural memory and how books, statues, etc. are part of the cultural memory, so that groups of people remember things like this song and incorporate it so deeply within their culture that the origin is lost.
Robert Burns’ song is very common, globally and continues be reinitiated by various groups as part of a collective memory. The song is about missing friends, and Burns missed his friends that died and his past memories, both good and bad.
This song is used at the ball dropping in New York each year and we take it for granted.
According to Scottish lore, “auld” means “old folk;” ancestors. How this became a New Year celebration song, I have no idea.
I think Robert Burns did a wonderful job in showing us that we should never forget our “auld ones.” It shows a true commitment to history, family either past, present, or future, and speaks of a longing to remember, along with a celebration style.
I really enjoyed that Burns establishes that he felt bad for the mouse the entirety of the poem- he ruined her home and now in the onslaught of winter she is homeless. Yet Burns still sees that the mouse is spectacularly lucky- it is a simple being who doesn’t have the active conscious that humans do. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be mice- one dimensional and forever living in the now, never dissecting what this life is about.
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January 18, 2018 at 6:14 am
See in context
January 16, 2018 at 9:37 pm
January 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm
January 16, 2018 at 4:49 pm
January 16, 2018 at 4:58 am
January 16, 2018 at 2:58 am
January 16, 2018 at 2:48 am
January 16, 2018 at 12:27 am
January 15, 2018 at 9:54 pm
January 12, 2018 at 11:15 pm
April 27, 2018 at 2:08 pm
This poem emphasizes the cyclical qualities of life. This stanza acknowledges the transition from the innocence of youth into a complicated older society. It demonstrates how happiness and youth are fleeting. In the previous stanza we are told about a carefree old man. He demonstrates how in our old age we might return to the same wonderous joy of youth. Although the elderly might posess this same happy disposition, the still carry wisdom and pain with the memories of a complicated life. Many reminisce about the simplicity of being a young girl or boy where everything is exciting and new. It takes a realist perspective where, “The sun does descend,/And our sports have an end.” This poem demonstrates how neither happiness nor sorrow are permanent afflictions. The cycle continues with no true end in sight.
April 27, 2018 at 1:58 pm
In the final stanza we see that, while the narrator doesn’t truly move to the Lake Isle of Innisfree, he takes the isle with him in his thoughts, memory, and temperament. He is expressing how he will take refuge in his memory of the isle in order to live amongst society while embracing a feeling of peace and connection with nature. Even, “While [he stands] on the roadway, or on the pavements grey”, he is able to connect with the Isle in his , “deep heart’s core” and in his soul. This is a form of escapism, while he still allows himself to be somewhat entrapped by a materialistic society. He gives in to most social conventions while holding on to romantic ideals.
April 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm
This poem reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. The narrator desires to escape from society by living alone in nature. This is likely in response to an increasingly industrialized society. He glorifies nature and it’s peaceful qualities by describing the Lake of Innisfree with a natural supernaturalist perspective. This sort of ideal is expressed often throughout the arts and can be described as a romantic perspective.
April 26, 2018 at 1:51 pm
The final stanza in Dover beach is provoking in that Arnold speaks to lover about a dark and unhappy world. His is a realists perspective, likely in light of a declining faith in humanity and religion. This is a time, “Where ignorant armies clash by night”. In the dawn of industrialization conflict seems prevalent as society becomes materialistic. At this time society was fighting unaware over materialistic, and capitalistic reasons. Arnold has lost faith in humanity and struggles to move past, “The eternal note of sadness”. His is a romantic perspective where he looks at war, materialism, industrialization, and capitalism, as a true decline in humanity with no end in sight.
April 24, 2018 at 11:45 am
This poem exemplifies the transcendent ideals of writers in this period. “I’m happiest when most away” followed by, “I can bear my soul from its home of clay” suggests that the author finds happiness in spirit. She desires a freedom that comes with escaping the physical world before her. The, “home of clay” she speaks of is likely her physical body. In some religions a deity creates humans with clay. This poem is likely demonstrating escapism where the author would enjoy escaping reality if only in spirit. This is likely a response to industrialization which tends to strengthen attachment to the physical/material aspects of society.
April 24, 2018 at 12:13 am
Yes, definitely hearing your lover tell you they love you while meaning it is beautiful to the soul. Sometimes, though, feeling it is more important. The passionate intensity throughout the whole poem shows that she does need to hear it more than feel it. It soothes the soul to hear your lover telling you how they love you.
April 24, 2018 at 12:02 am
The forbidden fruit is indeed strong throughout the whole of the poem, I wholeheartedly agree. It seems that Laura is full of curiosity, but is that on the whole wrong? I think Lizzie’s warnings are what made Laura curious; a lot like the parent telling the teenager not to do something which in tern makes the teenager even MORE inclined to do it.
April 23, 2018 at 10:54 pm
This whole poem brings to mind an ending, as in a changing of the season; possibly a spring straight into winter. There is a loss and isolation feel to it, especially at the mention of Danae. I do love winter and I know now everyone does, which is why to me this feels like he’s writing about an ending of a beautiful spring.
April 23, 2018 at 9:52 pm
There are two phrases that stand out to me in this: train-oil breath and petitionary growl. I have no idea why, but the first thing that came to my mind is world weariness. Carlyle is excellently descriptive about this Hyperborean Bear, this Russian Smuggler. Carlyle is trying to explain to him that he is absolutely not interested and who can blame him? It’s only after he shows the Russian his pistols that the Russian backs off. An everlasting no? If the pistols hadn’t dissuaded him, Carlyle might have been involved in a Duel, which is not something he wanted.
April 23, 2018 at 8:54 pm
I, too, thought war when I read this. The hope he shows until the stanza you mentioned was palpable, but so is his despair.
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