Robert Burn's “To a Mouse” and “To a Louse” vs William Blake's “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”
Blake’s perception of good and evil isn’t just one extreme to the other, instead, the ambiguity of evil isn’t evil; it is just the other side of good.
Burns’ poetic voice seemingly goes on to appeal specifically to humanity’s malevolent and volatile arrogance, which bode similar to that of the God we are presented with in the book of Genesis, in their abilities to modernize over that of the animal kingdom and the mouse’s skilful building on his nest, in that ‘man’s dominion has broken Nature’s social union’ (Burns). This links to the idea that humanity have perhaps somehow developed a sense of autonomy over the natural world, deeming themselves god-like figures in the realms of earth. Carol McGuirk’s interpretation in that ‘when Burns’ farmer spares the field mouse, he is acting as though there is only one field mouse in the world — his field mouse’ (p.510). The issue of urbanization and modernity of humanity and its seemingly unsuited correlation with that of the natural world’s harmony is yet another stark feature of Burns’ poem To a Mouse and this is fundamentally illustrated in the destruction of the mouse’s home at the unyielding and unsympathetic hands of the farmer’s plough. Perkins hypothesises that ‘increasing urbanization gradually removed a large part of the population from direct experience of farming…This promoted the nostalgic, sentimental, and idealized version of nature that we now call Romantic’ (p.2). In this instance one may align the act of farming to represent the entirety of the natural world and its many intricate and functional simplicities whilst simultaneously doing the same to the motif of the plough; in having it fundamentally represent urbanization and the beginnings of the later industrialization period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries respectively. The poetic persona in To a Mouse does go on to label the modern instrument a ‘cruel coulter’ after it ‘blast[s]’ (Burns) through the ‘Mousie’ home. Burns’ persona in this poem seems to pine for the simpler days and the destruction of this ‘wee beastie’s’ (L.1) home has ultimately confirmed that not even technology can overcome ‘the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men’ (L.40). The poem seemingly shifts tone towards the end, and there are also hints at the equality between ‘mice and men’ with the poetic persona referring to the mouse as ‘an’ fellow mortal!’ and this idea is further explored in To a Louse in that – as a poet of the Romantic era – Burns attempts to discover a higher truth of meaning through the contemplation and analysis of the natural world. In this sense we may conclude that to Burns, industrialization and the dependence upon technology reduces humanity’s ability to find the truths about life and value of meaning.
This work and The Scots Musical Museum make up the bulk of Burns’s poems and folk songs, including the well-known pieces “Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose” and “The Battle of Sherramuir.”
Burns, Robert, and Carol McGuirk. Robert Burns. London: Penguin Books, 1993. Print.
McGuirk, Carol. “Sentimental Encounter In Sterne, Mackenzie, And Burns”. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 20.3 (1980): 505. Web.
Morris, David B. “Burns And Heteroglossia”. The Eighteenth Century 28.1 (1987): 3. Web.
Perkins, David. “Human Mouseness: Burns And Compassion For Animals”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 42.1 (2000): 1-15. Print.
Williams, Raymond. Keywords. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print.