“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie” is the opening line of Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse, on turning up her Nest with the Plough, November 1785. Burns, “the Ploughman Poet”, although actually a pretty lousy farmer, wrote poetry and songs in Lallands, the dialect of the Scottish Lowlands. That opening line addresses the mouse as “Small, sleek, cowering, fearful creature..”.
In the poem, he empathises with a mouse whose nest he has inadvertently destroyed whilst ploughing his field. The mouse had worked hard to build the nest to see her through the winter, and suddenly and unexpectedly, it is wrecked, with no time to build another before winter sets in. For all her diligence and preparation, the mouse is left homeless: “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang oft a-gley” (the best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong) – catastrophic events can and do happen.
The poet then considers that the mouse is lucky in that it only deals with the present time (lucky, despite being destitute), whereas humans may lament the past and dread the future.
He concludes the poem with the line: “An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear”.
Guessing and fearing is pretty much where the 18th century was with risk management, and in some cases now, too…
Sources: The Complete Works of Robert Burns, Wikipedia
And by the way, tonight is Burns Night, commemorating his birth on 25 January 1759, enjoy yer haggis…