Years ago, I took a course in Scottish literature in which I read various
works by Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Carlyle, and of course, Robert Burns. Even if
this last name does not strike a chord with you, some of his words do.
Literally. You sing them each New Year’s Eve.
Another familiar phrase from Burns was made popular by an American author,
who used it for the title of his book, Of Mice and Men. Translated
from the Scottish tongue, Burns proclaims that “the best laid plans of
mice and men go oft awry”.
And so they do (as both mouse and man discovered last night).
After scurrying around to get kids to and from a birthday party, I was ready
to settle down and watch some television when I saw something scurrying around
in my kitchen. The man was not home at the time. It was just me. And (eek!) a
Now, if it crawls, hops, or slithers, I generally vacate the premises and
leave it to someone else to deal with. So my first instinct was to run. But,
with a baby sleeping in the other room, I had to stay. With a mouse. Two rooms
My next instinct was to call the man. I had full confidence that he could
take care of the wee little beastie. He did so last time. (Yes, the house is
old and has been in a state of disrepair, so this is not the first time.) However,
my phone was on the dining room table in full view of the kitchen and its
I somehow summoned the courage to dart, mouselike, into the dining room to retrieve
my phone and then just as quickly dash back to my spot on the couch. I relayed
the message to the man, who was, in fact, on his way home. As I waited for his
return, I saw the mouse again. In the dining room. And again. In the living
room where I sat fighting the urge to climb up onto the back of the couch.
The mouse made itself at home behind the television. Upon his return, the
man had a hard time finding it because the thing had hidden itself so well
among the various wires and cords back there. The mouse eventually gave its
position away, though, and the man set about making plans to capture and
dispose of our uninvited guest.
After a few minutes, he went to the back room to get an empty bag of dog
food. (Why we had an empty bag of dog food in the back room I do not know.) He
placed the empty bag along the wall in order for the mouse to run into should
it exit from its hiding spot and head back toward the dining room. Then, he
went into the back room again and returned with a long board. (Our back room is
the catch-all for miscellaneous objects, both useful and not.) His plan was to
situate the board so that should the mouse decide to run out the other way, it
would have no choice but to exit out the open front door.
Now it was time to scare out a mouse. With a shorter board in hand, the man
began banging it against the wall and television stand. This continued for a
few minutes with no results. Finally, I saw some movement in the direction of
the door. I did not actually see the mouse come out from behind the television,
though, and the man had not seen anything.
Assuming that the mouse was still behind the television, he began looking
for it once again. It was nowhere to be seen, so he carefully inched the stand
forward and poked through the wires with the board. Still the mouse could not
be seen, so we had to conclude that it had escaped from view. Whether or not it
found another hiding spot in the house remains to be seen.
Inspired by last night’s adventure, I read Burns’ “To a Mouse”
today, both in its original form and translated into standard English. Either
way you read it, I am now convinced that Burns had too much sympathy for
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the poem, it is basically a
farmer’s apology for disturbing a mouse’s nest with his plow. He is sorrowful
that, with winter coming, he has left the poor mouse without shelter. He
compares his own struggle to survive with that of the mouse and feels sorry
that man and mouse cannot live together in harmony.
Although beautifully worded, I cannot agree with Burns’ sentiment. My house
is no place for man and mouse, so the next set of “best laid plans”
involve traps. Lots of them.
Just don’t tell my Scottish lit professor.