Robert Burns

 

Holy Willie's Prayer

holy willies prayerHoly Willie's Prayer is a poem that was written about a certain Willie Fisher who was an elder in the Parish church of Mauchline, in Ayrshire. Fisher was a hypocrite and himself a sinner who spied on people and reported them to the minister if he thought they were doing wrong.

The poem is a satire based on Fisher's sickly self-righteousness. The phrase "Holy Willie" have become part of the Scots language for describing someone that is humourless and ultra religious.

Note: Burns was a God fearing man. This poem is not anti-religion. It is stricly a condemnation of religious hypocrisy and self righteousness.

Holy Willie's Prayer (original)

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel',
Sends aen to Heaven an' ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
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
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I wha deserv'd most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years 'ere my creation,
Thro' Adam's cause.

When from my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain'd to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
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.

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,
An' singing here, an' dancin there,
Wi' great and sma';
For I am keepit by Thy fear
Free frae them a'.

But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust:
An' sometimes, too, in worldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defil'd wi' sin.

O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi' Meg
Thy pardon I sincerely beg;
O may't ne'er be a livin' plague
To my dishonour,
An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.

Besides, I farther maun avow,
Wi' Leezie's lass, three times I trow -
But Lord, 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
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.

Lord, bless Thy chosen in this place,
For here Thou has a chosen race!
But God confound there stuborn face,
An' blast their name,
Wha brings Thy elders to disgrace
An' open shame.

Lord, mind Gaw'n Hamilton's deserts;
He drinks, an' swears, an' plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony takin arts,
Wi' great an' sma',
Frae God's ain priest the people's hearts
He steals awa'.

And when we chasten'd him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
And set the world in a roar
O' laughing at us;
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
Kail an' potatoes.

Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray'r,
Against that Presbyt'ry o' Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord mak it bare
Upo' their heads;
Lord visit them, an' dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God! that glib-tongu'd Aitken,
My vera heart an' flesh are quakin,
To think how we stood sweatin, shakin,
An' pish'd wi' dread,
While he, wi' hingin lip an' snakin,
Held up his head.

Lord, in Thy day o' vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their pray'r,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
An' dinna spare.

But, Lord, remember me an' mine
Wi' mercies temporal and divine,
That I for grace an' gear may shine,
Excell'd by nane,
And a' the glory shall be Thine,
Amen, Amen!

Holy Willie's Prayer (translation)

O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell,
[And] As it pleases best Thyself,
Sends one to Heaven and ten to Hell,
All for Thy glory,
And not for any good or bad
They've done during their lifetime!

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou has left in night
That I am here before Thy sight,
For gifts and grace
A burning and a shining light
To all this place.

Why should I, or my very birth,
Receive such exaltation?
I who deserved most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years before my birth,
All on account of Adam’s Original sin.

When from my mother's womb I fell,
Thou might have plunged me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burning lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chained to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show [that] thy grace is great and ample;
I'm here a pillar of Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a shield, and an example,
To all Thy flock.

O Lord, Thou knows what zeal I have,
When drinkers drink, and swearers swear,
Singing here, and dancing there,
As do all the social classes;
For I am kept, through fear of Thee,
Free from all these sins.

But yet, O Lord, confess I must,
At times I feel the lust of the flesh:
And sometimes, too, since I am only human,
Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defiled with sin.

O Lord! Yesterday evening, Thou knows, [I layed] with Meg
Thy pardon I sincerely beg;
O may it never be a living plague
To my dishonour,
And I'll never lift a lawless leg - Again upon her.

Besides, I must also declare,
I had Lizzie’s daughter three times,
But Lord, that Friday I was drunk,
When I came near her;
Or else, Thou knows, Thy servant true
Would never have taken her.

Perhaps Thou lets this fleshly thorn
Torment Thy servant evening and morning
So he doesn't get too high and mighty,
About being being so gifted:
If so, Thy hand must always be borne
Until Thou lifts it.

Lord, bless Thy chosen ones in this place,
For here Thou has a chosen race!
But God confound their stubborn face,
And blast the name,
Of those who bring Thy elders to disgrace,
And open shame.

Lord, ensure Gavin Hamilton gets his just deserts;
He drinks, and swears, and plays cards,
Yet has so much influence
Among all the social classes
From God's own priest, the people's hearts
He steals away.

And when we tried to make him change his ways,
Thou knows how he raised such a merriment,
And set the world in a roar
Of laughing at us;
Curse Thou his livelihood and his possessions,
Kail and potatoes. (i.e. all his crops)

Lord, hear my earnest cry and prayer,
Against that Presbytery of Ayr; (The church court)
[With] Thy strong right hand, Lord, smite them
Upon their heads;
Lord visit them, and do not spare them,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God! that glib-tongued Aitken,
My very heart and body are quaking,
To think how we stood sweating, shaking,
Wetting ourselves with dread,
While he, the smooth talking snake,
Was able to win his case.

Lord, in Thy day of vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them who did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their prayer,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
Do not spare them.

But, Lord, remember me and mine,
With mercies temporal and divine,
So that I for grace and wealth may shine,
Excelled by none,
And all the glory shall be Thine
Amen, Amen!

(A translation by Ashleigh Hogg)

Epitaph on Holy Willie >

 

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