Verse > Harvard Classics > Robert Burns > Poems and Songs
Robert Burns (1759–1796).  Poems and Songs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
70. Epistle to the Rev. John M’Math
Inclosing a Copy of “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” Which He Had Requested, Sept. 17, 1785
WHILE at the stook the shearers cow’r
To shun the bitter blaudin’ show’r,
Or in gulravage rinnin scowr
            To pass the time,
To you I dedicate the hour        5
            In idle rhyme.
My musie, tir’d wi’ mony a sonnet
On gown, an’ ban’, an’ douse black bonnet,
Is grown right eerie now she’s done it,
            Lest they should blame her,        10
An’ rouse their holy thunder on it
            An anathem her.
I own ’twas rash, an’ rather hardy,
That I, a simple, country bardie,
Should meddle wi’ a pack sae sturdy,        15
            Wha, if they ken me,
Can easy, wi’ a single wordie,
            Lowse hell upon me.
But I gae mad at their grimaces,
Their sighin, cantin, grace-proud faces,        20
Their three-mile prayers, an’ half-mile graces,
            Their raxin conscience,
Whase greed, revenge, an’ pride disgraces
            Waur nor their nonsense.
There’s Gaw’n, misca’d waur than a beast,        25
Wha has mair honour in his breast
Than mony scores as guid’s the priest
            Wha sae abus’d him:
And may a bard no crack his jest
            What way they’ve us’d him?        30
See him, the poor man’s friend in need,
The gentleman in word an’ deed—
An’ shall his fame an’ honour bleed
            By worthless, skellums,
An’ not a muse erect her head        35
            To cowe the blellums?
O Pope, had I thy satire’s darts
To gie the rascals their deserts,
I’d rip their rotten, hollow hearts,
            An’ tell aloud        40
Their jugglin hocus-pocus arts
            To cheat the crowd.
God knows, I’m no the thing I should be,
Nor am I even the thing I could be,
But twenty times I rather would be        45
            An atheist clean,
Than under gospel colours hid be
            Just for a screen.
An honest man may like a glass,
An honest man may like a lass,        50
But mean revenge, an’ malice fause
            He’ll still disdain,
An’ then cry zeal for gospel laws,
            Like some we ken.
They take religion in their mouth;        55
They talk o’ mercy, grace, an’ truth,
For what?—to gie their malice skouth
            On some puir wight,
An’ hunt him down, owre right and ruth,
            To ruin straight.        60
All hail, Religion! maid divine!
Pardon a muse sae mean as mine,
Who in her rough imperfect line
            Thus daurs to name thee;
To stigmatise false friends of thine        65
            Can ne’er defame thee.
Tho’ blotch’t and foul wi’ mony a stain,
An’ far unworthy of thy train,
With trembling voice I tune my strain,
            To join with those        70
Who boldly dare thy cause maintain
            In spite of foes:
In spite o’ crowds, in spite o’ mobs,
In spite o’ undermining jobs,
In spite o’ dark banditti stabs        75
            At worth an’ merit,
By scoundrels, even wi’ holy robes,
            But hellish spirit.
O Ayr! my dear, my native ground,
Within thy presbyterial bound        80
A candid liberal band is found
            Of public teachers,
As men, as Christians too, renown’d,
            An’ manly preachers.
Sir, in that circle you are nam’d;        85
Sir, in that circle you are fam’d;
An’ some, by whom your doctrine’s blam’d
            (Which gies you honour)
Even, sir, by them your heart’s esteem’d,
            An’ winning manner.        90
Pardon this freedom I have ta’en,
An’ if impertinent I’ve been,
Impute it not, good Sir, in ane
            Whase heart ne’er wrang’d ye,
But to his utmost would befriend        95
            Ought that belang’d ye.


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