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A Penitential thought, in the hour of Remorse - Intended for a Tragedy


All devil as I am, a damned wretch, A harden'd, stubborn, unrepenting villain, Still my heart melts at human wretchedness; And with sincere tho' unavailing sighs I view the helpless children of Distress. With tears indignant I behold th' Oppressor, Rejoicing in the honest man's destruction, Whose unsubmitting heart was all his crime. Even you, ye hapless crew, I pity you; Ye, whom the Seeming good think sin to pity; Ye poor, despis'd, abandon'd vagabonds, Whom Vice, as usual, has turn'd o'er to Ruin. O, but for kind, tho' ill-requited, I had been driven forth like you forlorn, The most detested, worthless wretch among you! O injured God! Thy goodness has endow'd me With talents passing most of my compeers, Which I in just proportion have abus'd; As far surpassing other common villains As Thou in natural parts hadst given me more.

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Jonathan Watson

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written between 1771 and 1779 and is read here by Jonathan Watson.

More about this poem

This poem is thought to have been written sometime during 1777 when Burns was at Mount Oliphant with his family.

The tone of the poem reflects the misery which the Burnes family endured on the farm during this time, and before the family managed to move to Lochlie later in the year.

The poem was first published in the Scots Magazine, November, 1803.

The opening lines are reminiscent of lines found in Thomas Otway’s play Venice Preserv’d: ‘Yes a most notorious Villain: / To see the suffring’s of my fellow Creatures, / and own my self a Man’. The poem is also notable because it demonstrates a keen awareness of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which Burns had read early in his life.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

poverty class anguish unhappiness

Selected for 20 December

The first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was held on this day in 1560. Here Burns, a sincere but questioning Presbyterian, prays to 'Injured God'. The poet acknowledges the great talent he has been given, recognising too, that he has wasted those gifts. Endowed with a large capacity for guilt, the Bard exaggerates. This is a young man's poem. Attainment and success were but months away. Yet the abjection and hardship are real. Tragically, despite the triumphs soon to come, Robert Burns never did write a tragedy.

Donny O'Rourke

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