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Robert Burns


Holy Willie's Prayer

Richard Wilson reads the poem:

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The text in full (with explanatory notes)


Holy Willie’s Prayer


O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell,

Who, as it pleases best Thysel' [Thysel': Yourself,

Sends ane to heaven an' ten to hell,

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 an' grace

A burning and a shining light

To a' this place.


What was I, or my generation,

That I should get sic [sic: such exaltation,

I wha deserve most just damnation

For broken laws,

Five thousand years ere my creation,

Thro' Adam's cause?


When frae my mither's womb I fell,

Thou might hae plunged me in hell,

To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,

In burnin lakes,

Where damned devils roar and yell,

Chain'd to their stakes.


Yet I am here a chosen sample,

To show thy grace is great and ample;

I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,

Strong as a rock,

A guide, a buckler [buckler: small shield, and example,

To a' Thy flock.


O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,

When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,

An' singin there, an' dancin here,

Wi' great and sma';

For I am keepit by Thy fear

Free frae them a'.


But yet, O Lord! confess I must,

At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust:

An' sometimes, too, in wardly trust,

Vile self gets in:

But Thou remembers we are dust,

Defil'd wi' sin.


O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi' Meg -

Thy pardon I sincerely beg,

O! may't ne'er be a livin plague

To my dishonour,

An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg

Again upon her.


Besides, I farther maun [maun: must avow,

Wi' Leezie's lass, three times I trow -

But Lord, that Friday I was fou [fou: full,

When I cam near her;

Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true

Wad never steer her.


Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn

Buffet [Buffet: a dull blow Thy servant e'en and morn,

Lest he owre proud and high shou'd turn,

That he's sae gifted:

If sae, Thy han' maun [maun: must e'en be borne,

Until Thou lift it.


Lord, bless Thy chosen in this place,

For here Thou hast a chosen race:

But God confound their stubborn face,

An' blast their name,

Wha bring Thy elders to disgrace

An' public shame.


Lord, mind Gaw'n Hamilton's deserts;

He drinks, an' swears, an' plays at cartes [cartes: playing cards,

Yet has sae mony [sae mony: so many takin arts,

Wi' great and sma',

Frae God's ain priest the people's hearts

He steals awa.


An' when we chasten'd him therefor,

Thou kens how he bred sic a splore [sic a splore: such a high-spirited (and often drunken) party, prank or hubbub,

An' set the warld [warld: world in a roar

O' laughing at us; -

Curse Thou his basket and his store,

Kail an' potatoes.


Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray'r,

Against that Presbyt'ry o' Ayr;

Thy strong right hand, Lord, make it bare

Upo' their heads;

Lord visit them, an' dinna spare,

For their misdeeds.


O Lord, my God! that glib-tongu'd Aiken,

My vera heart and flesh are quakin,

To think how we stood sweatin', shakin,

An' piss'd wi' dread,

While he, wi' hingin lip an' snakin,

Held up his head.


Lord, in Thy day o' vengeance try him,

Lord, visit them wha did employ him,

And pass not in Thy mercy by 'em,

Nor hear their pray'r,

But for Thy people's sake, destroy 'em,

An' dinna spare.


But, Lord, remember me an' mine

Wi' mercies temp'ral an' divine,

That I for grace an' gear may shine,

Excell'd by nane,

And a' the glory shall be thine,

Amen, Amen!



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