"To a Mouse"
Why does Burns give specifics in his title? What is unusual about this topic? About the poet's treatment of it?
What is added to the poem by its stanza form, use of refrain, and rhymes? Are any of the effects humorous or parodic?
What is the speaker's relation to his subject? What problems confront the mouse? How does the poem develop the speaker's thoughts?
How is the audience's view of the poem altered by the final stanza? Does he make a convincing case that the life of a human is more anxious than that of a mouse?
Do there seem to be autobiographical elements to this poem? Which of the mouse's problems did Burns share?
Would you describe this poem as comic or serious? What seems the relation between these two modes of response?
"Tam O' Shanter. A Tale."
What is the poem's plot? Is it an epic subject? Why do you think Burns chose this story as the focus of a long poem?
What is the narrator's relation to his poem? How does this affect its tone? What attitude toward his subject does he convey?
Which features of the story contribute a comic or parodic tone? Which, if any, seem relatively serious?
To which prior eighteenth-century author may Burns be indebted? What are some mock-epic features of the poem?
What is added to the poem by its language? Its mode of narration? Its stanza form and rhyme scheme? What are some verbal devices which add to the humor?
What causes the dissolution of the witches' dance? What part does Nannie play in the upheaval? What is the effect of the rupture of reality into the dream and the dream into reality?
What response to you think Burns' audience would have been expected to have to this poem? How much sympathy and respect are we expected to have for Tam? his wife? his horse? Nannie?
What is the poem's ostensible moral? Does it in fact have a moral?
Why do you think this rendition of a drunk and frightened man's fantasy became one of Burns' most famous poems?
"Holy Willie's Prayer"
What do we know about Willie's beliefs from his prayer? To what sect or religion did he belong?
Which of Willie's actions undercut his prayer? What does the poet seem to find especially inappropriate about the speaker's self-image, focus of interest, and expectations?
How does the order in which Willie presents his thoughts affect our view of his character? What are his chief preoccupations and traits of character?
Does this poem seem to reflect an incident in Burns's experience?
What is added to the poem by its stanza form and diction?
Do you think the use of the dramatic monologue form contributes to the poem, and if so, how? Have you read other poems with an unreliable speaker?