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To a Mouse

To a Mouse

by Robert Burns

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!

  • Man, this Scots dialect looks pretty weird, compared to standard English. Try reading it out loud with your best Scottish accent, and go listen to the poem read out loud in the "Links" section. We'll wait…
  • Okay. Welcome back. It's a bit easier to understand once you've heard it read out loud once or twice, isn't it? Let's continue.
  • In the first line, the speaker addresses a little "beastie," or animal, that he describes as small ("wee"), sleek ("sleekit," which can also mean crafty or sneaky, but in this context probably just means sleek and smooth), cowering ("cow'rin") and fearful, or timorous ("tim'rous").
  • Okay—you can start to see the connection between the Scots language and standard English, right?
  • He hasn't actually called it a "mouse" yet, but we can guess from the title of the poem that the little "beastie" he's addressing is a mouse.
  • The speaker says that the little critter has a panic in its breast.
  • Kinda cute how the speaker rhymes "beastie" with "breastie," isn't it? We'll come back to the rhyme scheme once we've read a little more, but you can always click over to "Form and Meter" for more on that.

Lines 3-4

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
  Wi' bickerin brattle!

  • The speaker tells the mouse that it doesn't need to run, or "start" away so hastily with "bickering brattle," or an argumentative chattering. 
  • The repeated beginning B sound in line 4 is an example of alliteration—it sounds almost like the kind of scolding, frightened chatter you'd hear from a frightened mouse or squirrel. Cool.

Line 5-6

I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
  Wi' murd'ring pattle!

  • The speaker continues to try to comfort the mouse—he says that he'd be sorry, or "loath," which the Scots dialect spells as "laith," to run ("rin") and chase after the mouse with a murderous "pattle."
  • A "pattle," for all you non-farmers out there, is a handle on a plow, which, we suppose, could be used as a mouse-killing weapon if you felt so inclined.
  • Fortunately for the mouse in this poem, though, the speaker isn't inclined to kill any rodents.
  • Let's pause at the end of this stanza to check out the rhyme scheme: looks like AABCBC.
  • Notice how the rhymes are all two syllables long? "Beastie" rhymes with "breastie," "hasty" rhymes with "chase thee," and "brattle" rhymes with "pattle." Go check out the "Form and Meter" section for more on this kind of rhyme.

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