Holy Willie’s Prayer

Burns wrote this satirical attack against a particularly sanctimonious Kirk elder, William Fisher, who had made a public complaint against Burns’s friend, Gavin Hamilton – for such sins as digging his garden on a Sunday instead of reading a Bible

O THOU, who in the heavens does dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best thysel,
Sends ane to heaven an' ten to h-ll,
A' for Thy glory!
And no for ony gude 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 and grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place.-

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

When from my mother's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me in hell,
To gnash my gooms, and weep, and wail,
In burning lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell
Chain'd to their stakes.-

Yet I am here, a chosen sample,
To shew thy grace is great and ample:
I'm here, a pillar o' thy temple
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a ruler, and example
To a' thy flock.-

[O L-d thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, and swearers swear,
And singin’ there, and dancin’ here,
Wi' great an’ sma';
For I am keepet by thy fear,
Free frae them a'.-]

But yet- O L-d- confess I must-
At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust;
And sometimes too, in wardly trust,
Vile Self gets in;
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 living plague,
To my dishonour!
And 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 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
Buffet thy servant e'en and morn,
Lest he o’er proud and high should turn,
That he's sae gifted;
If sae, thy hand maun e'en be borne,
Until Thou lift it.-

L-d bless thy Chosen in this place,
For here thou hast a chosen race:
But G-d, confound their stubborn face,
And blast their name,
Wha bring thy rulers to disgrace
And open shame.-

L-d, mind Gaun Hamilton's deserts!
He drinks, and swears, and plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony taking arts,
Wi' Great and Sma',
Frae G-d'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 warld in a roar
O' laughing at us;
Curse thou his basket and his store,
Kail an' potatoes.-

L-d hear my earnest cry and prayer,
Against that Presbytry o' Ayr!
Thy strong right hand, L-d, make it bare
Upon their heads!
L-d visit them, an' dinna spare,
For their misdeeds!

O L-d my God! that glib-tongu'd Aiken!
My very heart and flesh are quaking
To think how I sat, sweating, shaking,
And p-ss’d wi' dread,
While Auld wi' hingin lip gaed sneaking
And hid his head!

L-d, in thy day o' vengeance try him!
L-d visit them that did employ him!
And pass not in thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their prayer;
But for thy people's sake destroy them,
And dinna spare!

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

Back to top