Epitaph On Holy Willie


Here Holy Willie's sair worn clay Taks up its last abode; His saul has ta'en some other way, I fear, the left-hand road. Stop! there he is, as sure's a gun, Poor, silly body, see him; Nae wonder he's as black's the grun, Observe wha's standing wi' him. Your brunstane devilship, I see, Has got him there before ye; But haud your nine-tail cat a wee, Till ance you've heard my story. Your pity I will not implore, For pity ye have nane; Justice, alas! has gi'en him o'er, And mercy's day is gane. But hear me, Sir, deil as ye are, Look something to your credit; A coof like him wad stain your name, If it were kent ye did it.

Listen

John Sessions

About this work

This is an epitaph by Robert Burns. It was written in 1785 and is read here by John Sessions.

More about this epitaph

This epitaph was also probably written in 1785 along with Holy Willie's Prayer.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this epitaph

death humour hypocrisy

Selected for 12 February

Today in 1809, Willie Fisher, mercilessly satirised in 'Holy Willie’s Prayer' enjoyed his last full day on earth, stumbling into a ditch during a snowstorm and dying of exposure. Although it would enhance deliciously the poet's assault on him as a 'whited sepulchre' or hypocrite, the widespread assumption that this staunch Calvinist was drunk must remain speculation. In any event, the spiritually complacent Kirk elder would discover soon enough whether he was after all, one of the 'elect', singled out for salvation. This encounter with the devil long pre-dated his actual demise. William Fisher, however hard to like, at least had the satisfaction of outliving his epitaph, and its author, by thirteen years.

Donny O'Rourke

Skip to top

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.