Wren fledgings scouring their new world outside the nest for the first time.
I am in awe of the fact that so many people sent me suggestions for a new name for this particular bit of my blog. Some said they preferred me to keep the Bug-a-day title – but I can’t. Those who don’t live in the UK probably wouldn’t understand, but the number of times I have heard the word “bugger” recently as a semi-offensive swear word has made the use of
Bugger Day Bug-a-day untenable.
I almost ran with an adaptation of Rainey’s suggestion and called it “Wings and Stings and Things.” But it takes too long for me to type!
As it turns out, my search strayed “north of the border” into Scotland and I came upon a poem we studied in school oh-so-many-years ago by Robert Burns – who, in 1785, put pen to paper after he uprooted a mouse and its nest while he was ploughing. The full poem itself coins a phrase that many people may have heard before, and one that certainly influenced John Steinbeck: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)
The poem is written in thick Scottish dialect, but I have added a link to the English “translation” if it helps. It is Burns’ outpouring of sadness, not only over the fact that he has destroyed the fieldmouse’s nest at a time of year (November) when the mouse is unlikely to be able to rebuild, but at the way humans seem to be under the delusion that they are separated from the rest of nature and are somehow superior to it. Burns wrote this when he was only 26, but he had already lived a difficult life, and at a time when he was involved in several illicit affairs resulting in illegimate children. At the end of the poem, Burns confesses that he admires the mouse, because it lives only in the present, unlike himself, who constantly looks back on his past with sadness and looks to his future with fear.
I haven’t thought about this poem for many years, and I’m not sure what brought me back to it today – but I think it echoes the way I feel when I am wandering through the woods with a new view of nature and the complexity of a world we barely see and rarely take time out to appreciate. Click here to listen to the poem read aloud.
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O what a panic’s in thy breastie !
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle !
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle !
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal !
I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live !
A daimen-icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never miss’t !
Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin !
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin;
And naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green !
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’
Baith snell an keen !
Thou saw the fields laid bare an waste
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell
Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee bit heap o’leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble !
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble
An’ cranreuch cauld !
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.
Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me !
The present only toucheth thee;
But, Och ! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear !
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear !