Study Guide

To a Mouse Man and the Natural World

By Robert Burns

Man and the Natural World

"To a Mouse" takes place in a farmer's field, and it takes the form of an address from the farmer to a mouse that he's just turned out of its nest. Sure, it was an accident, but our farmer-speaker still feels badly about it—and it gives him the opportunity to reflect on the relationship of all of mankind with the natural world. How do you think the mouse feels about this silver lining, though?

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why is it important that the poem be set on a farm, rather than, say, in a forest? How would this theme be developed differently if the poem were written by a hunter addressing an animal that he/she had accidentally caught in a trap? Or a fisherman about to release a fish that wasn't worth keeping?
  2. How does a mouse help the speaker to develop his ideas in a way that another animal wouldn't? How would the poem be different if it were addressed to a different animal, like a squirrel or a ladybug?
  3. What might the coming winter represent in "To a Mouse"? 
  4. What does the speaker mean by "nature's social union" (l8)? How has mankind broken that social union in the poem?

Chew on This

The agricultural setting of "To a Mouse" is appropriate, given the poem's description of the injustice of man's "dominion" over nature—nowhere is man's control over nature more evident than in a plowed and cultivated field. So take that, nature.

A mouse is an appropriate subject for this poem because it has enough in common with humans that Burns' readers can sympathize with its plight, but it is also small and relatively helpless. Poor mousie.

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