Verse > Harvard Classics > Robert Burns > Poems and Songs
Robert Burns (1759–1796).  Poems and Songs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
57. Holy Willie’s Prayer
“And send the godly in a pet to pray.”—POPE.

  ARGUMENT.—Holy Willie was a rather oldish bachelor elder, in the parish of Mauchline, and much and justly famed for that polemical chattering, which ends in tippling orthodoxy, and for that spiritualized bawdry which refines to liquorish devotion. In a sessional process with a gentleman in Mauchline—a Mr.Gavin Hamilton—Holy Willie and his priest, Father Auld, after full hearing in the presbytery of Ayr, came off but second best; owing partly to the oratorical powers of Mr. Robert Aiken, Mr. Hamilton’s counsel; but chiefly to Mr. Hamilton’s being one of the most irreproachable and truly respectable characters in the county. On losing the process, the muse overheard him [Holy Willie] at his devotions, as follows:—
O THOU, who in the heavens does dwell,
Who, as it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends ane to heaven an’ ten to hell,
                A’ for Thy glory,
And no for ony gude or ill        5
                They’ve done afore Thee!
I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
                For gifts an’ grace        10
A burning and a shining light
                To a’ this place.
What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation,
I wha deserve most just damnation        15
                For broken laws,
Five thousand years ere my creation,
                Thro’ Adam’s cause?
When frae my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me in hell,        20
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
                In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
                Chain’d to their stakes.
Yet I am here a chosen sample,        25
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar o’ Thy temple,
                Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
                To a’ Thy flock.        30
O L—d, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an’ swearers swear,
An’ singin there, an’ dancin here,
                Wi’ great and sma’;
For I am keepit by Thy fear        35
                Free frae them a’.
But yet, O L—d! confess I must,
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust:
An’ sometimes, too, in wardly trust,
                Vile self gets in:        40
But Thou remembers we are dust,
                Defil’d wi’ sin.
O L—d! yestreen, Thou kens, wi’ Meg—
Thy pardon I sincerely beg,
O! may’t ne’er be a livin plague        45
                To my dishonour,
An’ I’ll ne’er lift a lawless leg
                Again upon her.
Besides, I farther maun allow,
Wi’ Leezie’s lass, three times I trow—        50
But L—d, that Friday I was fou,
                When I cam near her;
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true
                Wad never steer her.
Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn        55
Buffet Thy servant e’en and morn,
Lest he owre proud and high shou’d turn,
                That he’s sae gifted:
If sae, Thy han’ maun e’en be borne,
                Until Thou lift it.        60
L—d, bless Thy chosen in this place,
For here Thou hast a chosen race:
But G—d confound their stubborn face,
                An’ blast their name,
Wha bring Thy elders to disgrace        65
                An’ public shame.
L—d, mind Gaw’n Hamilton’s deserts;
He drinks, an’ swears, an’ plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony takin arts,
                Wi’ great and sma’,        70
Frae G—d’s ain priest the people’s hearts
                He steals awa.
An’ when we chasten’d him therefor,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
An’ set the warld in a roar        75
                O’ laughing at us;—
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
                Kail an’ potatoes.
L—d, hear my earnest cry and pray’r,
Against that Presbyt’ry o’ Ayr;        80
Thy strong right hand, L—d, make it bare
                Upo’ their heads;
L—d visit them, an’ dinna spare,
                For their misdeeds.
O L—d, my G—d! that glib-tongu’d Aiken,        85
My vera heart and flesh are quakin,
To think how we stood sweatin’, shakin,
                An’ p—’d wi’ dread,
While he, wi’ hingin lip an’ snakin,
                Held up his head.        90
L—d, in Thy day o’ vengeance try him,
L—d, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by ’em,
                Nor hear their pray’r,
But for Thy people’s sake, destroy ’em,        95
                An’ dinna spare.
But, L—d, remember me an’ mine
Wi’ mercies temp’ral an’ divine,
That I for grace an’ gear may shine,
                Excell’d by nane,        100
And a’ the glory shall be thine,
                Amen, Amen!


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