The best laid plans of mice and men – Meaning and Origin

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Some of you probably read the book “Of mice and men” in school, but few of you have even considered its source material.

Here I want to discuss the Robert Burns poem that gave rise to this book – “to a mouse”. I’ll examine what this means, why someone would write a poem about a mouse, who Robert Burns was, and why John Steinbeck chose to use its title.

During the best laid plans of mice and men. A-gley, the end comes. The best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.

No matter how well you plan, there is no guarantee of success.

By the way “Gang aft-a-gley” means “goes wrong”.

Robert Burns Who was he?

Ayr was The Scottish town depicted in Robert Burn’s famous poem. For us Englishmen, Shakespeare is Shakespeare. For Scots, Robert Burns is Robert Burns.

It is true that there is no better town for honest people than Old Ayr. “Old Ayr, nowhere else is better for honest men and beautiful women”.

Poetry was considered something for the rich and famous in his day, but much like Shakespeare brought the theatre to the masses, Robbie Burns brought poetry to the people.

While writing about small subjects in Burns’ poems, he would often explore big ideas.

To a mouse

A poem by Robert Burns called “To a mouse” is one of the most famous works of poetry in history. In it, a mouse has spent much of its time building a nest, but Robbie destroys it on the way to plough his field.

Robbie wants to apologize to a mouse. He understands that this mouse has put a lot of time and effort into its nest, and he did not expect the farmer to destroy it.

As a result of ruining all the mouse’s hard work in this poem, the poet wishes to express his regret for everything he has done.

Why write a poem to a mouse?

If you don’t like poetry, it might seem strange that someone would write a poem to a mouse. After all, it’s not like the mouse is going to write back saying “Thanks for the poem. I forgive you”.

You should always recognize that what a poet is saying isn’t necessarily what they mean literally, so you must learn how to read between the lines.

It’s not about the mouse as much as the fact that sometimes you plan something out only for it to be taken away from you just when you’ve finished.

Why compare mice to people?

There is normally a method to the madness of poets, but do believe me when I say they are some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

People will wonder why Burns chose to use a mouse as his metaphor. What was the significance of that?

The fact is that humans are also animals, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a king, a mouse, or a farmer; life is miserable.

All of us have to get through this life, so we are no better than the animals. No matter what you do in life, there will come a time when your hard work doesn’t pay off.

Burns vs the Bard

In a previous article, I wrote about Robert Burns, also known as “The Scottish Shakespeare”. It is true both of these men are geniuses; however, I believe that great minds are not the same.

Let’s start with the Bard. First of all, he was English.

He was either talking about events that have occurred in the past or about mythical creatures like swamp monsters or witches.

Many of Shakespeare stories will have been story-based.

In contrast, Robert Burns was Scottish, and his works were more relatable to everyday life. His characters were portrayed as someone you would see on a regular basis. His pieces were character-oriented.

Famous Burns quotes

Many of you probably enjoy singing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve. This phrase means “the old days”, and it’s a poem by Robbie Burns.

We also have the classic “Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonny lasses” from earlier.

“But to see her was to love her” is excellent to use in romantic situations.

He criticized the American educational system by saying, “A set of dull, conceited hashes, Confuse their brains with college-class lessons!”

Of Mice and Men Plot

It is likely that most of you reading this are familiar with the novel “Of mice and men.” But if you weren’t taught anything about it in school, here’s what it all means.

George and Lennie are struggling to make ends meet on a farm during the Great Depression. They don’t have much money, so they work on the farm to make ends meet.

However, they dream of one day, Lennie is able to afford a big house with a beautiful garden. However, he has a mental disturbance, and he finds himself getting into a lot of trouble.

Towards the book’s end, Lennie accidentally kills the daughter-in-law of the guy who owns the farm the two are working on. This threw George and Lennie into a dangerous situation where they had to flee.

George shoots Lennie in the back of the head knowing he’ll never get the house with Lennie in the way.

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Importance of the book

If you’re wondering why your English teacher ever made you read that book. Let me explain.

This book provides an in-depth insight into what was happening at the time. Compared to non-fiction books, this book gives a sense of how life was as a whole.

You’ll end up getting attached to the characters and feeling sorry for everything they’ve had to go through.

He also explores the various social views that society had on the views of women, the working classes, and African Americans.

Plus, the theme of friendship and hope is heavy throughout the novella.

There is no non-fiction publication on the Great Depression that can do what Steinbeck did.

Why that title?

Now, there is a question to bring up here.

Why did Steinbeck give his book this title?

As for Steinbeck and Burns, they were both American writers. That’s why it doesn’t make much sense that an American author named his novel after a phrase from a Scottish Poem.

Like the mouse in the book who wanted a nest to raise his young, George in the book has plans to purchase his own house one day.

The mouse worked all day constructing its nest just as the mouse spent his entire life building his own house.

As the mouse faced the loss of everything all at once, Lennie was the victim of the same fate when he murdered the girl.

Neither George nor the mouse had a plan they had always dreamed of only to be deceived and their life wiped clean from them.

How the quote “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men” help us?

Such a quote can help us during certain times in our life.

Whenever we’re in a situation when we’ve worked exceptionally hard and nothing ends up paying off, we often feel like there was no point in doing all of that hard work.

During the Lockdown, this was especially true. I’m sure there were many people who had grand plans for 2020 that were never realized.

Best etymology

Best is a word with a rather interesting etymology.

Despite its meaning of “of the highest quality”, the word “Best” is derived from the proto-Germanic “Bat.” Not related to the animal at all, it means “in the most excellent manner.”

I know that’s a bit of a tangent, but it’s still quite interesting to learn about.


Alternatives to The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

When I realize that hard work has resulted in nothing, the best laid plans of mice and men do not relate to me. I know some of you will say the following.

“Shit Happens” is short and simple, and directly to the point.

“All for nothing” is the most literal way of saying what has just happened to you.

The term “it is what it is” became increasingly popular after the television show “Love Island”. It might seem like a nothing phrase, but what it implies is “there is nothing you can do, so don’t worry”.


Robert Burns wrote a poem, “The best laid plans of mice and men”, about a mouse whose nest has been destroyed by the poet, who is writing this poem to apologize to the mouse for what he has done.

The poem was written by Robert Burns, the Scottish Shakespeare.

George, the main character in “Of Mice and Men”, was just as worthless as the mouse was in his endeavors to achieve his goal.

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