Poetry Corner: Holy Willie’s Prayer

William CarstaresOn this day, 11th February in 1659 William Carstares, the radical Scottish Presbyterian cleric was born. Carstares was exiled because of his involvement in the “Rye House Plot” to overthrow King Charles II. He became chaplain to William of Orange, and after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, he headed the Church of Scotland during the reigns of William and Mary, and later Queen Anne. Carstares was instrumental in securing Scottish support for the Act of Unification between England and Scotland. ScotClans

Holy Willie’s Prayer  by Robert Burns

And send the Godly in a pet to pray.
— Alexander Pope.

O Thou that in the Heavens does dwell!
Wha, as it pleases best thysel,
Sends ane to Heaven and ten to Hell,
A’ for Thy glory!
And no for ony gude or ill
They’ve done before Thee.—

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou has left in night,
That I here before Thy sight,
For gifts and grace,
A burning and a shining light
To a’ this place.—

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get such exaltation?
I, wha deserv’d most just damnation,
For broken laws
Sax thousand years ere my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause!

When from my mother’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me deep in hell,
To gnash my gooms, and weep, and wail,
In burning lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell
Chain’d to their stakes.—

Yet I am here, a chosen sample,
To shew Thy grace is great and ample:
I’m here, a pillar o’ Thy temple
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a ruler and example
To a’ Thy flock.—

[O Lord thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, and swearers swear,
And singin’ there, and dancin’ here,
Wi’ great an’ sma’;
For I am keepet by the fear,
Free frae them a’.—]

But yet—O Lord—confess I must—
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust;
And 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 living plague,
To my dishonor!
And I’ll ne’er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.—

Besides, I farther maun avow,
Wi’ Leezie’s lass, three times—I trow—
But L—d, 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 fleshy thorn
Buffet Thy servant e’en and morn,
Lest he o’er proud and high should turn,
That he’s sae gifted;
If sae, thy hand maun e’en be borne
Untill Thou lift it.—

Lord bless Thy Chosen in this place,
For here Thou has a chosen race:
But God, confound their stubborn face,
And blast their name,
Wha bring thy rulers to disgrace
And open shame.—

Lord mind Gaun Hamilton’s deserts!
He drinks, and swears, and plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony taking arts
Wi’ Great and Sma’,
Frae God’s ain priest the people’s hearts
He steals awa.—

And when we chasten’d him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
And set the warld in a roar
O’ laughin at us:
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
Kail and potatoes.—

Lord hear my earnest cry and prayer
Against that Presbytry of Ayr!
Thy strong right hand, Lord, mak it bare
Upon their heads!
Lord visit them, and dinna spare,
For their misdeeds!

O Lord my God, that glib-tongu’d Aiken!
My very heart and flesh are quaking
To think how I sat, sweating and shaking,
An’ pish’d wi’ dread,
While Auld wi’ hingin lip gaed sneaking
And hid his head!

Lord, in thy day o’ vengeance try him!
Lord visit him that did employ him!
And pass not in thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their prayer;
But for thy people’s sake destroy them,
An’ dinna spare!

But Lord, remember me and mine
Wi’ mercies temporal and divine!
That I for grace and gear may shine,
Excell’d by nane!
And a’ the glory shall be thine!
Amen! Amen!

Watch:Holy Willie’s Prayer performed by Christopher Tait

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