To a Louse
by ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796)
(On seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church)
Ha! whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie!
Your impudence protects you sairly:
I canna say but ye strunt rarely
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’ faith, I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunned by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her,
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner,
On some poor body.
Swith, in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle
Wi’ ither kindred, jumpin cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn or bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.
Now haud ye there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug an’ tight;
Na faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right
Till ye’ve got on it,
The vera tapmost, towering height
O’ Miss’s bonnet.
My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as onie grozet:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie ye sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum!
I wad na been surprised to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
But Miss’s fine Lunardi! -fie!
How daur ye do’t?
O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin!
Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin!
O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
And ev’n Devotion!
Poets were sometimes commissioned to write poems on a certain topic as was the case with The Mouse and The Oyster by Dr. Samuel Bowden. John Keats and his buddies sometimes wrote poems on the same topic in friendly competition.
I like to think that Burns was inspired to write To a Louse to prove the truth of a remark that he could write a poem about anything!
Read the modern translation on Page 2