In the poem “To a Mouse,” a farmer speaks to a mouse about the unfortunate incident where he plowed up the mouse’s nest. The event is seen as regrettable because it was unintended and because the mouse needs its nest to live through the winter. The farmer laments the fact...
that both have to work so hard to survive but ultimately lands on the fact that, though the mouse’s nest is destroyed, the mouse is better off than the narrator himself because he lives in the present and doesn’t have to dread the future.
Note: The poem is originally in phonetically in a Scottish dialect, which can make it hard to read. You can find an excellent alternate transcription on Wikipedia.
The first three stanzas of the poem lament the fall of the mouse's house and explore the feelings of the farmer toward the mouse. He doesn’t feel antipathy toward the mouse, which would be normal for humans—instead, he understands the mouse’s plight. He says:
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;
The farmer says that, though the mouse may steal, it is apparent that the mouse needs what he takes to survive, and the farmer doesn't begrudge him the little that he takes.
Stanzas 4–6 talk about what the mouse has lost in his house. They describe the situation of winter and why the mouse would have built his house in the first place. Then the poem goes into detail about the materials and looks of the nest.
The last two stanzas of the poem, 7–8, explore the feelings of the farmer about his own situation. Like the mouse, the farmer is barely scraping by. The farmer explains that, though the mouse may be in dire straits because his house was destroyed, he still lives a better life than the farmer because the farmer, despite planning, still has to worry for the future. The farmer utters a famous line to encapsulate his feelings:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' menGang aft agley,An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,For promis'd joy!
The farmer concludes that, ultimately, the mouse, though his nest is destroyed, is still far more blessed. He says that though he plans, something that should lead to promised joy, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry—meaning a life lived in the present is almost better than one thats planned because the planning can be for nothing.