‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’: A Poem by Robert Burns

‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ shows just what a great satirical poet Robert Burns could be. Like John Betjeman’s later poem ‘In Westminster Abbey’, ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ – a poem from 1785 – uses the form of a prayer to expose religious hypocrisy and ruthless self-preservation – here, the self-preservation of ‘Holy Willie’, a church elder.

Holy Willie’s Prayer


Holy Willie was a rather oldish bachelor elder, in the parish of Mauchline, and much and justly famed for that polemical chattering, which ends in tippling orthodoxy, and for that spiritualized bawdry which refines to
liquorish devotion. In a sessional process with a gentleman in Mauchline-a Mr.Gavin Hamilton-Holy Willie and his

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