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Robert Burn's “To a Mouse” and “To a Louse” vs William Blake's “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”

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The issue of freedom and the right of a human being to it has been actual for centuries. There was the belief that some people were born to be free while the rest of the world should serve them, being just slaves, deprived of any rights and is doomed to spend the rest of their life in the chains of slavery. This approach was popular for the major part of the history of humanity. However, with the development of society, human thought and tolerance new ideas started to obtain popularity.

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William Blake was an 18th century visionary, poet, mystic, and artist. Blake’s romantic style of writing allowed him to create contrasting views as those in “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”. From a young age Blake used his imagination that was frowned upon and unfortunately was never greatly appreciated during his lifetime. “William Blake believed that it was the chief function of art to reveal the truth of the spiritual world by liberating imagination”. It wasn’t until after Blake’s death that his work finally received some attention. Known as a romantic, Blake continued throughout his writing to radically question religion and politics; He was very critical of the church, putting forth the effort to attack and question it. Blake put his own insight into his poems to raise the public awareness in a personal attempt to seek the truth. Perhaps he is most famous for his creative and simplistic Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience that influenced the other Romantic poets with themes of good and evil, heaven and hell, and knowledge and innocence. With regards to religion, William Blake opposed the views of the Christian church and its standardized system. Blake, having more of a spiritual position than a religious one, considered himself as a “monistic Gnostic”, meaning that “he believed what saved a person’s soul was not faith but knowledge”. Blake’s view of religion was considered blasphemous, and in his works he was “concerned with the character of individual faith than with the institution of the Church, its role in politics, and its effects on society and the individual mind”. Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” is more suggestive to the nature of God. The idea is that the same God who made the lamb also made the tiger, so unless it is suggested that God created evil, then the tiger must not be “evil”. The fact that the same God created both the lamb and tiger suggest that they just represent two different sides of God: Two different aspects of existence

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.

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he macrocosmic tone of the book of Genesis seems entirely absent when reading To a Mouse in which Burns’ persona concentrates their poetic narrative upon the ‘wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ (Burns), thus placing heavy emphasis and importance upon a seemingly insignificant facet of the universe and subsequently the natural world order. 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.

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All things considered, in 1791, however, Burns quit farming for good and moved his family to the nearby town of Dumfries. There he accepted the position of excise officer—essentially a tax collector—and continued to write and gather traditional Scottish songs. That year he published “Tam O’Shanter,” a slightly veiled autobiographical story of a ne’er-do-well farmer, which is now considered a masterpiece of narrative poetry. In 1793 he then contributed to publisher George Thomson’s A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice. 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.”

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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.

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