General Information

This is a fantastic poem about social inequality in which the speaker is a lower class man observing a louse on a fine lady’s hat while in church.

Instructors’ Teaching Experience

Shockingly, the students really enjoyed this poem even though it was written in a Scots dialect. I introduced this poem to them in class on the day a major paper was due, by passing it out and reading it aloud. They really enjoyed hearing me perform the Scots dialect and were shocked to realize Burns wrote that New Year’s song or “Auld Lang Syne.” I also provided some biographical information about Burns, which I was told made him come alive for them.

Classroom Strategies

I taught this poem in conjunction with several other “creature poems” namely John Donne’s “The Flea,” Burns’ “To a Mouse,” and Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat.” I used these poems as there first introduction to reading poetry. We spent the first class reading and interpreting each poem as a class. In the second class we began drawing comparisons between the poems and their messages and the way animals were used to help deliver those messages. Then, in the last 40 minutes I had the students write their own “creature poems” to comment on their lives or society. This proved to be a great exercise for proving to students that poems can actually say things beyond their surface interpretations. It was also quite a bit of fun. They seemed to prefer Burns and Gray over Donne, perhaps because some of them had read the Donne before. They particularly loved Burns. [Taryne Taylor]

Additional Resources

From Wikipedia: “In this poem the narrator notices an upper class lady in church, with a louse that is roving, unnoticed, around in her bonnet. The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey, and that we would be disabused of our pretensions if we were to see ourselves through each others’ eyes.”