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To a Mouse

To a Mouse


by Robert Burns

To a Mouse Theme of Dreams, Hopes, Plans

This is a biggie, Shmoopers. Sure, "To a Mouse" starts out as a description of a mouse's nest getting torn up by a plough, but by the end, the speaker assures us that it's about something Much Bigger. It's about how all creatures, human or mouse, make careful plans that get all messed up. It's the common fate of all "mortals." Good times, everyone.

Questions About Dreams, Hopes, Plans

  1. In the final stanza of the poem, whose situation looks more enviable—the mouse's or the speaker's? Why do you think so? 
  2. The stanza that is most often quoted from this poem—you might call it the dramatic climax—has a break in the rhyme scheme. Check it out: in lines 39-42, Burns rhymes "agley" (pronounced "ah-glee") with "joy." Most of the poem has fairly exact rhymes—why might he have broken his rhyming pattern here? What's the effect on your reading? (Note: poets as skilled as Burns always had a reason for stuff like this.)
  3. What kinds of hopes, plans, and schemes might a mouse have, anyway, and why bother comparing those little mousie plans with human dreams?
  4. What kinds of human dreams, aspirations, and fears do you think the speaker is describing in the final lines of the poem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker breaks the rhyme scheme in lines 39-42 (rhyming "agley" with "joy") to underline the broken dreams of both "mice and men." Thanks for highlighting the bummer for us, Burnsie.

Far from mocking the hopes and dreams of men by comparing them to those of a mouse, the speaker suggests that all plans and aspirations—from any "fellow-mortal"—are worthy of dignity and respect. So turn those mouse-frowns upside down.

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