The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men gang aft agley

I’m a planner. I like to have a strategy and a backup plan, and alternatives for my backup plans. I spent all Saturday planning and reworking the plan for the upcoming school week. And I. Was. Ready. But, well, you know the saying: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Which got me thinking, because while I’m a planner, I also love a good bunny trail. I was vaguely familiar with the phrase and knew it came from a poem, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So I looked it up. Yay, internet! Pre-Internet, I would have had to use Bartlet’s Familiar Quotations and then looked up the poet, probably at the library, which was way past closed. Do you realize what a wondrous time we live in? “What’s that poem?” Five seconds later, “Oh! That’s that poem!”

Anyway, the poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” was written by Robert Burns in 1785. While the mice and men phrase is most well known, thanks to John Steinbeck, I find the final stanza most powerful.

Poetry, being poetry, ought to be heard and not merely read. So listen as you read.

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,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
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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 agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d 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!

For those needing a translation, it’s not as poetic, but it helps.

Here’s to all our plans, whether they go awry or not.

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