Holy Willie's Prayer
by Rabbie Burns
Submitted by a lover of Burns Poetry.
Willie Fisher was known as Holy Willie and was an elder of Daddy Auld's Calvinist Kirk (Church) in Mauchline. He had a huge dislike for Gavin Hamilton, a landlord and almoner (treasurer) in the Church. Hamilton was suspected of financial impropriety when inconsistencies in the accounts were found.
Hamilton defended his case saying that the deficit was the result of his own kindly (and Christian) acts in forgiving the debts of those who were unable to pay their tax to the kirk.
Fisher spied on Hamilton and added the following charges of:
- Travelling on the Sabbath.
- Not reading the Bible on a Sunday.
- Digging his garden on the Sabbath (hence the reference to 'kail and potatoes' in the poem)
Hamilton won the case. Even with today's modern technology of 24-hour surveillance equipment it is hard to imagine how it was proved that he didn't read the Bible on a Sunday!
The Kirk appealed and lost, then appealed a second time and lost the second appeal too. The case was a talking point nationally, and can have done little to enhance the stature of the kirk.
Willie Fisher never recovered from the humiliation of this triple defeat, and, legend has it, was found dead in a ditch with a bottle of whisky.
Holy Willie's Prayer
O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell,
Who, as it pleases best Thysel',
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 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, 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 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, 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,
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 '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,
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.