A Prayer in the Prospect of Death


O Thou unknown, Almighty Cause Of all my hope and fear! In whose dread presence, ere an hour, Perhaps I must appear! If I have wander'd in those paths Of life I ought to shun, As something, loudly, in my breast, Remonstrates I have done; Thou know'st that Thou hast formed me With passions wild and strong; And list'ning to their witching voice Has often led me wrong. Where human weakness has come short, Or frailty stept aside, Do Thou, All-Good -for such Thou art- In shades of darkness hide. Where with intention I have err'd, No other plea I have, But, Thou art good; and Goodness still Delighteth to forgive.

Listen

Brian Cox

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1781 and is read here by Brian Cox.

More about this poem

In these verses, Burns acknowledges that he did not always stick to the path of righteousness and laments that he may meet his maker quite soon. However, the natural shortcomings of human nature are viewed as instilled by God, who thus should be willing to forgive his creatures for succumbing to the passionate flesh.

The poem is usually dated to 1784, but is most probably written earlier when Burns was at Irvine in the winter of 1781-2. During this period Burns suffered from a hypochondriac complaint. He writes to father of his impending demise and contemplation of the world yet to come. Burns uses Alexander Pope's Universal Prayer as a model and the metre is reminiscent of the Scottish metrical psalms.

Megan Coyer

Themes for this poem

religion death

Locations for this poem

Irvine

Selected for 19 July

On July 19th, 1796 desperately ill and failing by the hour, Robert Burns had only two more days to live. Long before, in his early twenties, he had brooded fearfully on the likelihood of a short life.

Donny O'Rourke

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