Of Mice and Men

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

- Helen Keller

Of Mice and Men

The worlds feels so upside down right about now. It is eerily quiet in the streets and there is no sign when things will, if ever, return to normal. Walking up the Meadow walk I see a crow, the second one on my walk today. This one flies out in front of me, coming to land ontop of an overflowing dirtbin. It lets out a squawk as it stares straight at me with its sparkling black eyes. The old me would have definitely considered this an omen. The new me is battling not to.

Last week I celebrated Burns night and also introduced my daughters to Robert Burns’ poetry. I enjoyed working through “To a Mouse’ together with them. It tells of a younger Burns, working on his parents’ farm and ploughing the field, when he accidentally disturbs a mouse’s nest. Winter is approaching and he feels really upset for having now made the poor mice fend for themselves in the cold. There is an environmental aspect to the poem and an awareness of our interconnectedness, that is really impressively advanced for 18th century thinking. But that is not the central theme, further down the poem he laments,

“But Mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!

The present only touches you:

But oh! I backward cast my eye,

On prospects dreary!

And forward, though I cannot see,

I guess and fear!”

Burns ultimately feels that life can be disappointing as so many plans don’t work out. He is suggesting that it it better to be like the mouse and only have to contend with the issues of the present moment, rather than those of the past or the worries of the future. The desperation and disappointment in his tone and feeling of bleak suffering add to the intensity of his message. And yet it is so strange but it gave me hope. We may have a pandemic and a world full of crisis, our future may be uncertain and bleak, but it appears not much has changed since the 18th century!

Burns went on to a life of fame and fortune in Edinburgh, before his death and is regarded as Scotland’s National Poet. Maybe some things work out, after all, no matter our feelings of despair.