Structure and form

Overall structure

The poem is a prayer which falls into four sections:

  • Stanzas 1-6: Willie’s address to God
  • Stanzas 7-10: His confession
  • Stanzas 11-16: A plea for God’s intervention
  • Stanza 17: A final request for God’s blessing

The Standard Habbie

The Standard Habbie stanza has six lines, with longer lines 1-3 and 5 rhyming and short lines 4 and 6 rhyming only with each other. This poetic form allows the poet to build up some momentum on the first three rhyming lines and then do something different with the final three. The two short lines can provide a ‘kick’ or ironic aside. In Holy Willie’s Prayer, the final three lines give a further twist to Willie’s outpourings, making him appear even more ridiculous, conceited and inhuman.

Form: Dramatic Monologue

In the poem the speaker is a fully formed and most unpleasant character, the antithesis of the sensitive ploughman persona Burns often adopts. In other words, Willie is a dramatic character like someone created to be a villain in a play. He gives his own account of himself, the only speaker in this dramatic monologue.