A Prayer, Under the Pressure of violent Anguish


O Thou Great Being! what Thou art, Surpasses me to know: Yet sure I am, that known to Thee Are all Thy works below. Thy creature here before Thee stands, All wretched and distrest; Yet sure those ills that wring my soul Obey Thy high behest. Sure Thou, Almighty, canst not act From cruelty or wrath! O, free my weary eyes from tears, Or close them fast in death! But if I must afflicted be, To suit some wise design; Then man my soul with firm resolves To bear and not repine!

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Shirley Henderson

About this work

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

More about this poem

Burns wrote about this poem in his First Commonplace Book, which was dated March 1784. ‘There was a certain period of my life that my spirit was broke by repeated losses and disasters, which threatened, and indeed effected the utter ruin of my fortune.

My body too was attacked by that most dreadful distemper, a Hypochondria, or confirmed Melancholy: in this wretched state, the recollection of which makes me yet shudder, I hung my harp on the Willow tree, except in some lucid intervals, in which I composed the following’.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

religion regret anguish unhappiness

Selected for 11 January

Between the ages of 22 and 23, Robert Burns suffered what we would now call a 'nervous breakdown'. The Hogmanay fire at Irvine which cost him his business as a flax dresser also cost him his balance of mind. Something of a 'last straw' at a time when he felt beleaguered on every front, the calamity gave rise to several despondent outpourings.

Donny O'Rourke

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