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To The Rev. John M'Math
INCLOSING A COPY OF 'HOLY WILLIE'S PRAYER'
WHICH HE HAD REQUESTED, Sept. 17, 1785

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

 

1.
While at the stook the shearers cow'r
To shun the bitter blaudin show'r,
Or, in gulravage rinnin, scowr:
To pass the time,
To you I dedicate the hour
In idle rhyme.
2.
My Musie, tir'd wi' monie a sonnet
On gown an' ban' an' douse black-bonnet,
Is grown right eerie now she's done it,
Lest they should blame her,
An' rouse their holy thunder on it,
And anathem her.

(Note:- Anathema - a solemn ecclesiastical
curse or denunciation.)

3.
I own 'twas rash, an' rather hardy,
That I, a simple, countra Bardie,
Should meddle wi' a pack sae sturdy,
Wha, if they ken me,
Can easy wi' a single wordie
Louse Hell upon me.
4.
But I gae mad at their grimaces,
Their sighin, cantin, grace-proud faces,
Their three-mile prayers an' hauf-mile graces,
Their raxin conscience,
Whase greed, revenge, an' pride disgraces
Waur nor their nonsense.
5.
There's Gau'n, misca'd waur than a beast,
Wha has mair honor in his breast
Than monie scores as guid's the priest
Wha sae abus't him:
And may a Bard no crack his jest
What way they've use't him?
6.
See him, the poor man's friend in need,
The gentleman in word an' deed -
An' shall his fame an' honor bleed
By worthless skellums,
An' not a Muse erect her head
To cowe the blellums?
7.
O Pope, had I thy satire's darts
To gie the rascals their deserts,
I'd rip their rotten, hollow hearts,
An' tell aloud
Their jugglin, hocus-pocus arts
To cheat the crowd!
8.
God knows, I'm no the thing I should be,
Nor am I even the thing I could be,
But twenty times I rather would be
An atheist clean
Than under gospel colors hid be
Just for a screen.
9.
An honest man may like a glass,
An honest man may like a lass,
But mean revenge an' malice fause
He'll still disdain
An' then cry zeal for gospel laws
Like some we ken.
10.
They take Religion in their mouth,
They talk o' Mercy, Grace, an' Truth:
For what? To gie their malice skouth
On some puir wight;
An' hunt him down, o'er right an' 'ruth,
To ruin streight.
11.
All hail, Religion! Maid divine,
Pardon a Muse sae mean as mine,
Who in her rough imperfect line
Thus daurs to name thee;
To stigmatise false friends of thine
Can ne'er defame thee.
12.
Tho' blotch't and foul wi' monie a stain
An' far unworthy of thy train,
With trembling voice I tune my strain
To join with those
Who boldly dare thy cause maintain
In spite of foes:
13.
In spite o' crowds in spite o' mobs,
In spite of undermining jobs,
In spite o' dark banditti stabs
At worth an' merit,
By scoundrels, even wi' holy robes
But hellish spirit!
14.
O Ayr! my dear, my native ground,
Within thy presbyterial bound
A candid lib'ral band is found
Of public teachers,
As men, as Christians too, renown'd,
An' manly preachers.
15.
Sir, in that circle you are nam'd;
Sir, in that circle you are fam'd;
An' some, by whom your doctrine's blam'd
(Which gies ye honor),
Even, Sir, by them your heart's esteem'd,
An' winning manner.
16.
Pardon the freedom I have taen,
An' if impertinent I've been,
Impute it not, good sir, in ane
Whase heart ne'er wrang'd ye,
But to his utmost would befriend
Ought that belang'd ye.

 

 


While at the shock the reapers stoop
To shun the bitter driving shower,
Or, in horseplay running, scour:
To pass the time,
To you I dedicate the hour
In idle ryhme.

My Muse, tired with many a sonnet
On gown and bond and sedate black-bonnet,
Is grown right fearful now she has done it,
Lest they should blame her,
And rouse their holy thunder on it,
And anathema her.





I own it was rash, and rather hardy,
That I, a simple, country Bard,
Should meddle with a pack so sturdy,
Who if they know me,
Can easily with a single word
Loose (set) Hell upon me.

But I became furious at their grimaces,
Their sighing, canting, grace-proud faces,
Their three-mile prayers and half-mile graces,
Their elastic conscience,
Whose greed, revenge, and pride disgraces
Worse than their nonsense.

There is Gauvin, miscalled worse than a beast,
Who has more honour in his breast
Than many scores as good as the priest
Who so abused him:
And may a Bard no crack his jest
What way they have used at him?

See him, the poor man's friend in need,
The gentleman in word and deed -
And shall his fame and honor bleed
By worthless good-for-nothings,
And not a Muse erect her head
To subdue the blusterers?

O Pope, had I your satire's darts
To give the rascals their deserts,
I would rip their rotten, hollow hearts,
And tell aloud
Their juggling, hocus-pocus arts
To cheat the crowd!

God knows, I am not the thing I should be,
Nor am I even the thing I could be,
But twenty times I rather would be
An atheist clean
Than under gospel colors hid be
Just for a screen.

An honest man may like a glass,
An honest man may like a lass (girl),
But mean revenge and malice false
He will still disdain
And then cry zeal for gospel laws
Like some we know.

They take Religion in their mouth,
They talk of Mercy, Grace, and Truth:
For what? To give their malice play (freedom)
On some pure person;
And hunt him down, over right and truth,
To ruin straight.

All hail, Religion! Maid divine,
Pardon a Muse so mean as mine,
Who in her rough imperfect line
Thus dares to name you;
To stigmatize false friends of yours
Can never defame you.

Though blotted and foul with many a stain
And far unworthy of your train,
With trembling voice I tune my strain
To join with those
Who boldly dare your cause maintain
In spite of foes:

In spite of crowds in spite of mobs,
In spite of undermining jobs,
In spite of dark bandit stabs
At worth and merit,
By scoundrels, even with holy robes
But hellish spirit!

O Ayr! my dear, my native ground,
Within thy presbyterial bound
A candid liberal band is found
Of public teachers,
As men, as Christians too, renowned,
And manly preachers.

Sir, in that circle you are named;
Sir, in that circle you are famed;
And some, by whom your doctrine's blamed
(Which gives you honor),
Even, Sir, by them your heart is esteemed,
And winning manner.

Pardon the freedom I have taken,
And if impertinent I have been,
Impute it not, good sir, in one
Whose heart never wronged you,
But to his utmost would befriend
Anything that belonged you.

 

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