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A couple of weeks ago I was given the gift of a nightshirt and nightcap by that keen Burnsian David Raeside of Dunlop in Ayrshire. David had said: “Have ye no’ got a Holy Willie outfit?” When I said no, he handed over these items that he had used himself over many years at Burns Suppers to deliver that most effective piece of poetical assassination – ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’. I hope that I can put the costume to good use and emulate David's great performances. So, this week I am recording the closing verses of the poem, in which Holy Willie rails against the perceived injustice of the outcome of the case he has unsuccessfully prosecuted against Burns’s friend Gavin Hamilton and calls on his God to punish the ‘offenders’ whilst taking particular care of his own personal interests.
“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.—
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!”