Context: Nowhere does the quality of compassion of Robert Burns show better than in this poem to an animal, a mouse whose burrow has been laid open by the poet-farmer's plowshare. In wholly unsentimental pity he views the mouse both as an animal which calamity has left defenseless to the cold when it had thought to winter snug in its nest, and as a fellow being whose work and hopes have come to naught. Addressing the mouse, he says he is sorry to have given it cause to fear its fellow, man. It was, he says, welcome to what little grain it ever stole from his stock. And now its home, that cost it such toil, is ruined when it is too late to build another against the sleet and frost. Then he sighs to the mouse that it is not alone in such a mischance, for
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy.
Still thou art blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, though I canna see,
I guess an' fear!