To a Mouse

Address to a Caterpillar Cake

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In our family we usually mark birthdays by devouring a Chocolate caterpillar cake (Other insect-shaped desserts are available), and it’s great. It seemed appropriate to mark this sacrifice with a poem to salute the noble pudding, much as Robert Burns addressed his Haggis. This spin on ‘To a Mouse’ is the result:

 

Wee maukit chocolate-covered beastie,

O’whit a fondant’s in thy breastie,

Ye’ll mak an unco guid feastie,

Fer this birthday

 

I am sorry sic a hungry caterpillar,

A lettuce-champin cabbage-killer,

Should be a rumbling tummy-filler,

In sic a way

 

Ye are but swiss roll an smarties

But hame’s nae whit, but whaur the heart is,

An even the best laid birthday parties,

Gang aft agley

 

May ye hae smiles after ye’ve greetit,

An may ye always be well treatit,

An may ye hae yer cake an eat it,

Whiles cake ye hae

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Thrack Hooks

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Thrack Hooks, or sickles, were used by the young Robert Burns as he went about his daily agricultural duties. Born into a farming family and raised on a smallholding until the age of seven, his upbringing not only earned him the nickname of ‘Ploughman Poet’, but hugely influenced his later works, probably inspiring the love of nature apparent in poems such as ‘To a Mouse’. Sickles were used during the harvest to chop the stems of crops such as barley, wheat and corn, and it was with thrack hooks that, in 1774, a fourteen year old Robert removed nettle stings from the hand of his work partner, a local girl and ‘bewitching creature’ probably named Helen Kilpatrick. This awakened in him a ‘certain delicious Passion’ and inspired him to write his first song: ‘O once I lov’d a bonnie lass’ or ‘Handsome Nell’. Burns’s modest upbringing caused him to doubt his abilities as a poet, but after learning that a local farmer had written a song about his sweetheart, he decided to try it out himself… and never looked back! Unfortunately for our Bard, the lady in question did not return his feelings and the poem was not written down until twelve years later, on this very manuscript.

O once I loved a bonnie lass
Manuscript of the poem ‘O Once I loved a bonnie lass’

It is now part of the Stair manuscript collection, a group of eight poems and songs Burns copied and sent to Mrs Alexander Stewart of Stair in 1786, and remains a lasting legacy of the farm girl who inspired Burns to write.