To a Mouse
by Robert Burns
translation/modernization/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
Sleek, tiny, timorous, cowering beast,
Why’s such panic in your breast?
Why dash away, so quick, so rash,
In a frenzied flash
When I would be loath to run after you
With a murderous plowstaff!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that bad opinion
Which makes you startle,
When I’m your poor, earth-bound companion
And fellow mortal!
I have no doubt you sometimes thieve;
What of it, friend? You too must live!
A random corn-ear in a shock's
A small behest; it-
‘ll give me a blessing to know such a loss;
I’ll never miss it!
Your tiny house lies in a ruin,
Its fragile walls wind-rent and strewn!
Now nothing’s left to construct you a new one
Of mosses green
Since bleak December’s winds, ensuing,
Blow fast and keen!
You saw your fields laid bare and waste
With weary winter closing fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel iron ploughshare passed
Straight through your cell!
That flimsy heap of leaves and stubble
Had cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you’re turned out, for all your trouble,
Less house and hold,
To endure the winter’s icy dribble
And hoarfrosts cold!
But mouse-friend, you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
Go oft awry,
And leave us only grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still, friend, you’re blessed compared with me!
Only present dangers make you flee:
But, ouch!, behind me I can see
Grim prospects drear!
While forward-looking seers, we
Humans guess and fear!
Published by the English department of St. John’s College High School. Excerpted in an essay by Galkina Karolina, Institute of Humanities, Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University, Ukraine, and published on the university’s website. Keywords/Tags: Robert Burns, mouse, translation, modernization, update, interpretation, schemes, mice, men, agley, awry, nature, field, plow, den, home, modern English
Hugh MacDiarmid wrote "The Watergaw" in a Scots dialect. I have translated the poem into modern English to make it easier to read and understand. A watergaw is a fragmentary rainbow.
by Hugh MacDiarmid
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
One wet forenight in the sheep-shearing season
I saw the uncanniest thing—
a watergaw with its wavering light
shining beyond the wild downpour of rain ...
and I thought of the last wild look that you gave
when you knew you were destined for the grave.
There was no light in the skylark's nest
that night—no—nor any in mine;
but now often I've thought of that foolish light
and of these more foolish hearts of men ...
and I think that maybe at last I ken
what your look meant then.
Keywords/Tags: Scotland, Scot, Scottish, Scots dialect, night, nightfall, rain, grave, death, death of a friend, light, lights, watergaw, heart, heartache, broken heart, heart song