Friday, March 19, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I've use the term "The best laid plans of mice and men" many times. I know what it means or what I've always believed it to mean; that even the best laid plans can get waylaid due to obstacles and/or interruptions we may not foresee.Is that what you always thought it meant? Or did you think it was something different?

Today for the umpteenth time I used that phrase while commenting on The Pioneer Woman's food blog called The Tasty Kitchen. I commented because she's giving away a beautiful Candy Apple Red Kitchen Aid Mixer. I already have a beautiful Pink Kitchen Aid Mixer that my daughter gave to me, so if I win it I will give it to my daughter. If you get a chance go over and comment and that will enter you as well, and if you win it you can give it to my daughter too! Hahaha, just kidding, you can keep it.

But I digress; the real purpose today is to find out where the term "The best laid plans of mice and men" comes from. My favorite term in life is probably, "You have the world at your finger tips, Google it!" I say it to my kids, my coworkers and pretty much anyone that asks me any question. I may even have that term engraved on my head stone.

I know, I know...a tad bit morbid. But you see, I worked at a funeral home for several years and I tend to look at these things a little differently than most. Maybe I'll post about my adventures there someday.

But again...I digress. Geesh, quit with the digressing Alicia...this post is already too long!

Ok, so lets see, my point is the term "The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men". So I Google this term cause that's my thing, (see headstone above).

And what I found was this website where I read that this line comes from a poem written by Robert Burns called To A Mouse. He was inspired to write this poem after plowing up a mouse's nest. It must have weighed heavy on his heart because he wrote a beautiful poem as an apology to the mouse. In the poem he tells the mouse that he's sorry that he plowed through the mouse's home which said mouse had built with a great amount of work thinking that he was preparing himself a wonderful little home for the cold and bitter winter to come. And with one fell swoop,'s all gone. (Next I'm going to Google "one fell swoop" as that's a term I use a lot and have no idea where it comes from either, anyone know?) I'm thinking it's a reference to killing someone in a sword fight, but I could be wrong.

Robert Burns felt bad that this had happened, but he wanted the mouse to understand that we can't count on anything. No matter how well we plan them, no matter how well we document them, no matter how many good intentions we might have, we can't count on anything because life is fragile and ever-changing. And in that manner we, as humans have no more say in what life deals us than does a lowly little field mouse. Therefore the saying, "The best laid plans of mice and men".

The poem was translated by George Wilkie from his book "Understanding Robert Burns". Below is the poem as Robert Burns originally wrote it. If you would like to read the translation by George Wilkie you can do so here.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie, 
O, what panic's in thy breastie! 
Thou need na start awa sae hasty, 
Wi' bickering brattle! 
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, 
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Now I understand the term and I'm happy to say I've been using it correctly. What's your favorite term and have you ever wondered where it came from?


  1. Wow, now that is interesting. What a great idea to look up your favorite term. I like to say..."Opsa Daisy". Maybe because I have babies :O)

  2. Very interesting the story of Burns and the mouse!

    I'm familiar with a saying which in plain translation to english means: 'Man plans and God laughs', that is,one makes a plan, but only if God wants, it will be carried out successfully, and not a laughable fiasco.

  3. Thank you for posting this - I always wondered where the term came from. I like "I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union"

    A funeral home eh? Was it anything like Six Feet Under?

    Have you seen Its a pretty snide way of telling people to just google for themselves ;)

  4. Oh, you are too funny! And witty! And SMART...telling everyone to go Google themselves!! HA!

    I'd never looked up that expression, but assumed the same as you. And we were correct!

    I say "freakin" all the time, but we know what that means. I like to say that something's "golden", which means excellent.


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