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Burns Supper -- Tae a Moose, translated

OK this blog is supposed to be a sort of column of advice for travelers and tourists, but seeing as this is Burns Night, and I am going to a Burns Supper, and anyway, lots of tourists around the world end up at Burn's Suppers, I thought I had to at least do a wee bit on Burns.

Here is his fantastic poem, Tae a Moose. I love to recite it at Burns Suppers, often turning the poem into a game for kids (see Making Burns Suppers Fun).

It always surprises me a wee bit when Americans tell me that they did not realize that the phrase "Of Mice and Men" comes from this poem.

Tae a Moose, 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. Thy 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!

To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough

Wee, crafty, cowering, timid little beast, Oh, what a panic is in your little breast! You need not start away so hasty With argumentative chatter! I would be loath to run and chase you, With murdering plough.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion Has broken Nature's social union, And justifies that ill opinion Which makes you startle At me, your poor, earth born companion And fellow mortal! I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal; What then? Poor little beast, you must live! An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves Is a small request; I will get a blessing with what is left, And never miss it. Your small house, too, in ruin! It's strange ways the winds are blowing! And nothing now, to build a new one, Of coarse green foliage! And bleak December's winds coming, Both bitter and piercing! You saw the fields laid bare and wasted, And weary winter coming fast, And cozy here, beneath the blast, You thought to dwell, Till crash! the cruel plough passed Out through your cell. That small heap of leaves and stubble, Has cost you many a weary nibble! Now you are turned out, for all your trouble, Without house or holding, To endure the winter's sleety dribble, And hoar-frost cold.

But little Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy! Still you are blessed, compared with me! The present only touches you: But oh! I backward cast my eye, On prospects dreary! And forward, though I cannot see, I guess and fear.

Some notes:

“Sleekit” means “Sly,” or “Crafty” and not, as Wikipedia would have it, “Well Groomed.” Come on! – Well Groomed?! – what were they thinking?

“It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!” is often translated as: “Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!” – referring to broken house of the mouse.

I, in my mind, have always thought this line was actually “It is strange ways the winds [of fate] are blowing (hard) ” – hard enough to scatter the schemes of mice and men! It is hard to say what Burns actually intended, but “Silly” is a strange adjective to substitute for “feeble” and is a bit insulting to the skills of the mouse. Also notice he used here the abbreviation “It's” as in for “It is” rather than the possessive “Its” as in the walls belonging to the house; “Its walls” For such a master of language (both Scots and English), I find it hard to believe he would make this grammatical mistake.

“cranreuch” for hoar-frost. From the Gaelic phrase “crann reodhach” frosty tree; hoarfrost. A typically Gaelic pretty turn of words


“Thy wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble”

Hmm... I swear, as children, we all learned this line as:

“Thy wee bit heap o' sticks an' stibble”

This is a pretty and poetic alliteration, so now I wonder if burns amended this line is a later publication of his poems, although I must admit that I am having no luck finding it in this form.

If you ever come across it in this form, please drop me a note:



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