In keeping with month’s theme, Poetry and Nature, I wanted to turn back to Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse,” a poem that delights and provokes upon each reread. In the poem we can see Burns’ tendency to find inspiration in the everyday; a brief encounter with nature gives him the opportunity to ruminate on the state of man and mouse alike.
FSU’s Special Collections holds an incredible number of volumes of Robert Burns poetry, as well as ephemera connected to Burns fandom. A simple search for “Robert Burns” in the catalog of Special Collections items returns 149 items, including plays, music, biographies, and pamphlets, and most of these are either in the Shaw or Scottish collections.
Likely our rarest item is our copy of the Kilmarnock Burns, the earliest printing of a collection of Burns’ works; 612 copies were printed in 1786 on a subscription basis, and was immediately successful, turning Robert Burns into a national celebrity. It is in this volume that “To a Mouse” was first printed for public consumption. Here’s a video of Dawn Steele performing the work:
We learn in the poem’s subtitle, and in the lore surrounding its inception, that the titular “Mouse” was glimpsed, “On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785.”
Burns laments this action, expressing dismay that he’s caused her tiny mouse-heart to race: “O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!” Upon the poem’s closing, however, Burns has considered the differences between himself and the “wee beastie”: while both mice and men experience the roughness and instability in life, the mouse has the advantage in not being able to either dwell on the past or anxiously anticipate the future.
Spring is here, and FSU’s campus is covered in blossoming trees, lush green leaves, and curious critters. Take some time this week to consider your relationship to the natural world around you. Do you notice the little things on your walks through campus? Do you allow, as Burns did, these external stimuli to impact your thoughts and feelings about yourself, or even to provoke poetic expression?