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Holy Willie's Prayer Analysis
Author:Poetry of Robert BurnsType:PoetryViews: 591
"And send the godly in a pet to pray." - Pope
O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best Thysel',
Sends ane to heaven an' ten to hell,
A' for Thy glory,
And no for onie guid 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 exaltation,
I wha deserv'd most just damnation
For broken laws,
Sax thousand years ere my creation,
Thro' Adam's cause.
When from my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,
To gnash my gooms, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where daned 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, and example,
To a' Thy flock.
O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,
An' sining here, an' dancin there,
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 warldly 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 allow,
Wi' Leezie's lass, three times I trow -
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I cam near her;
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true
Wad never steer her.
Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn
Buffet 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 e'en be borne,
Until Thou lift it.
Lord, mind Gaw'n Hamilton's deserts;
He drinks, an' swears, an' plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony 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,
An' set the warld 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' p-'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 them,
Nor hear them their pray'r,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
An' dinna spare.
But, Lord, remember me an' mine
Wi' mercies temporal and divine,
That I for grace an' gear may shine,
Excell'd by nane,
And a' the glory shall be thine,
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A local church dispute involved the strict Calvinists of the Auld Licht in conflict with the forward-moderates of the New Licht.
Gavin Hamilton (Burns’ landlord) was tasked with collecting the ‘penny fees’ of the parish from each member of the community, but being a sensitive man of the people (like Burns) he sometimes allowed the poor to default on their payments.
For this, he was suspected of stealing amongst the elders of the parish. One of these elders, Willie Fisher (the 'Holy Willie' of the title) was given the task of investigating Hamilton’s background to trump up charges against him.
Fisher and the minister of the parish, both members of the ‘Auld Lichts’ were beaten three times on appeal when the case came to court.
Fisher, the Reverend Auld and other Auld Lichters saw God as a stern, unyielding presence. New Lichters Gavin Hamilton and Burns thought of God as a redeeming, forgiving being.
A Key Auld Licht belief, based on Calvinism, was that people did not go to Heaven because of their apparent goodness or good deeds, but because they had been chosen, ‘elected’ by God before birth. It was all due to God’s ‘Grace’, which meant that the ‘Elect’ could do all sorts of terrible things and still go to Heaven. Holy Willie believed himself to be one of the ‘Elect’.
The incident was well-known throughout Scotland at the time. Willie Fisher himself came to an ignominious end, found dead in a ditch with a whisky bottle nearby.