'To a Louse'

The full title of this vernacular poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796) is ‘To a Louse: On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church’. It is written in a traditional seventeenth17th-century form termed the Standard Habbie. The indignant speaker describes an impudent, audacious louse crawling on a beautiful woman, who is oblivious to its presence. Initially the reader assumes that she is a very fine lady indeed; but the penultimate verse rather punctures that image by referring to her simply as ‘Jenny’. Burns’s poetry is often anthropomorphic. Here there is a moral twist: the final stanza ends on a didactic note, with a warning against vanity. 

Robert Burns
Full title:
'To A Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church'
Romantic literature
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