O Lord my God, forgie this swither,
pray hear thy servant in his dither.
Should ah bide here? or cross the river – Kings 18:21
braid Rubicon –
(for hum an haw dis not luik cliver)
or sodger oan?
Thou minds ah ‘bottled it’ aince afore,
when Cameron let oot sic a sploar –
Thou kens there’s nocht that he’d like more,
than an election –
faa him an aa his Tory corps, Numbers 22:6
fowks’ fell rejection!
Shair Lord, thaim wi the mense tae see,
the path that you hae guidit me, Exodus 3:8
wid ne’er dout that ma destiny,
is mappit oot!
Keep mind, the warld wis sauved by me,
Your aid ah kent as foes ah trod oan,
As oligarchs felled taintit Osborne.
They felt ma wrath, ah strapt your sword oan, Leviticus 26:7
tae wreak thaim ill,
But thou kens ah’m no ‘Flash’ – juist Gordon,
Sent at your will.
Mind, it’s no juist the Opposeetion,
that poses threits tae ma poseetion,
Blunkett, Clarke, an in addeetion,
Cuid you no send thaim tae perdeetion –
an rax yer haund? Exodus 15:6
But, ah’m the man that ye hae chosen, 1 Samuel 10:24
Dreepin wi benison o unction
Your haund ah saw in Blair’s expulsion, Leviticus 16:10
Tae the desert air,
Ah’d ne’er hae taen back Mandelson,
Hud ah no bin shair.
Blair! Oan his throne! That wis ma chair! 1 Kings 1:13
Nou dinnae think ah’m bein unfair,
Lord mind, ’twis you that kept him there,
fir aa thae years,
while thon Cherie gaed smirkin, shair,
wi snipes an sneers.
While nou? He thinks tae get tae Heivin?
Ye’ll mind, that war wis his deceesion!
Thae tens o thoosans slain – his veesion – 1 Samuel 18:7
nane doun ti me –
Ah pleadit wi him, ‘Tone, see reason…’
He’d een tae see. Deuteronomy 21:7
It’s bin a lang road frae Kirkcaldy;
fir years ah languisht – his ‘dogsbody’,
while he gaed roond the warld tae toady,
a braizent scrounger! – John 9:8
tae Bush, Cliff Richard, Berlusconi –
the beggin cadger!
Ma bairntid, aye; curst parsimony,
Thon wis nae land o milk an honey. Exodus 3:8
Auld John wid aiblins think it funny,
Ah’ve foun the key,
Tae sairve baith maisters – God an Money, Matthew 6:24
in like degree.
An did the fowk gie me their thanks 1 Chronicles 29:13
fir bailin oot their Scottish banks?
Ah micht bin better sendin tanks,
tae quell their bleatin.
An wha’s tae blame, Lord? Aye, the Yanks!
Tae thaim gang greetin!
Economy wis stupit, thanks –
They’re blamin me, gaun doun the stanks, 2 Samuel 22:24
but Madoff wi his Ponzi pranks
wis ill tae trust:
no ma faut that the British banks
gaed boom, syne bust!
Thae billions aff fowks’ ‘Pensions Scheme’,
wis mine bi richts, tae fund ma dream!
Sae whit, gin ah straikt aff some cream, Job 29:6
fir odd ‘Fat-Cats’?
It’s juist a fact, Lord: Mammon’s stream,
a ye droons some rats!
Ma pure an flawless disposeetion, Job 11:4
Sees me steer clear o aa corruption,
Ma jaunts wi Geoffrey Robinson,
tae fitba matches,
Wis sanctiont tae enhance relations –
read the Dispatches!
Mind, Rome fair bates ‘Stark’s Park’ Lord, whiles,
‘Raith Rovers’ native domicile,
Wha lead the ‘Irn Bru’ league wi style!
Nae feet o clay! Daniel 2:33
Ah fervent pray ye’ll oan thaim smile, Job 29:24
Hame or Away!
But here: ah’m gaun ‘aff-message’ Lord.
Thou kens they’r blissed that hears thy Wurd. Numbers 24:4
No leeterally! – thon’s absurd!
Hou Bush gaed oan!
(Nae rael surprise that thon man heard
Ye oan his phone!)
Shuid ah announce a snap election,
in this, the kintra’s warst recession?
It wid be nice Lord, an Ascension –
Wi ma ain Mandate!
Ah’m fed up wi the allegation –
‘Wha hesitates is baet.’ Job 30:10
Mak the Juidgement o ma story;
‘Gorgeous Gordo pips the Tory!’
Juist think o whit tabloid furore
Gart Dave resign?
Ye hae ma wurd Lord, aa the Glory
Shall be Thine! 1 Chronicles 16:8
About this poem
This poem was written as part of the Scottish Poetry Library's Addressing the Bard project in 2009. Twelve contemporary poets were asked to select a poem by Robert Burns and respond to it. Rab Wilson chose 'Holy willie's Prayer'.
Rab Wilson comments:
When ah wis approached bi the Scottish Poetry Library tae play a pairt in their ongauns tae re-write/re-imagine ane o Burns’s greatest warks (we wir gien a leet o the poems we culd chuise frae, ah said ah wid be happy tae tackle white’er wis left eftir the ither makars hud made their walin! Hence ah wis the yin left wi ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’!). It wis wi some sense o trepidation that ah approacht this michtiest an maist famous o the Bard’s satires.
Ah think it’s kindae deeficult fir fowks leevin in this secular age tae get their heids roond the importance that releegion played in society, an the pouer it still exertit, at the time o Burns. Gin he’d wrote this piece a hunner year earlier there’s nae dout he wid hae bin hung fir sic blasphemy. Perhaps, in a wey, ‘Holy Willie’ is an exaumpil o hou faur tolerance an common sense hud advanced in Scotland throu the teachins o the Enlichtenment?
Fir masel, ah am an atheist, sae tacklin this wark hud addit problems! But ah am alsae siccar in masel in screivin Scots an, lik Burns hissel, ah’m no averse tae ‘writin fir fun’, an ah enjoy writin topical poleetical satire nou an agane. Sae, in a wey, this ploy wis ‘Caviar to the General’!
‘Holy Willie’, William Fisher (1737-1809), wis a native o Mauchline, an kirk elder, wha invoked Burns’s ire, an satirical wrath, fir steerin up a releegious ‘<em>coort-case</em>’ anent Burns’s guid frien Gavin Hamilton. In Janwar 1785 the ‘<em>Moderate</em>’ Presbytery o Ayr ordert the erasure o the Mauchline kirk session meenits anent Hamilton; the case went tae appeal, but Hamilton won an wis gien a certificate lowsin him frae ony ecclesiastical censure. Ye can imagine the anger an indignation o Willie Fisher at these ongauns, an thus the imagined prayer that the self-richteous Willie declaims tae heivin.
‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ wis written they reck directly eftir anither o ane o Burns’s great releegious satires, ‘The Holy Tulzie’, sae Burns wid hae bin oan a bit o a roll writin stuff that involved the direct uise o biblical references. Burns wid hae bin brocht up wi a deep knowledge o the Bible an it wid hae bin saicent nature fir him tae quote frae it when’er the need arose. Gin ony o the readers o this want tae fuin oot mair anent Burns’s poem, or the events surroundin its creatioun, then ah strangly encourage thaim tae read James Mckay’s influential <em>Burns; a Biography</em> of Robert Burns, and alsae tae consult the magisterial three volume edeetion <em>The Poems and Songs</em> of Robert Burns bi James Kinsley – ye wull not be disapyntit!
But tae oor tale! Wha did ah chuise fir ma modren ‘Holy Willie’? weel, unfortunately Tony Blair is nou history, an onywey, ah’d bin bate tae him bi Tony Harrison wha hus aareadies writ ‘Holy Tony’s Prayer’ – albeit he anely gied Blair a drubbin in rhyming doggerel couplets, while the subject o ma tirade gets the full ‘Staundart Habbie’ (Burns’s regular poetic metre) treatment! Ma subject hud tae be thon kenspeckle Scotsman, hailin frae Kirkcaldy, skeelie politeecian, son o the manse, an oor current Prime Meenister, Gordon Brown.
As wi Burns’s version ah hae consultit the Bible tae try an ensure that ‘Holy Gordon’ is gien aa due respect anent its poetic pedigree. Readers may consult the ‘guid buik’ at their leesure tae fuin an conseider the exact quotations applied an cited. At the end o the day this lichtweicht squib o mine cams naewhaurs near the genius o Burns’s satire – sic ploys as this wull generally ah’m thinkin produce anely technically correct, tho aiblins heirtfelt, tributes tae the man. Gin it maks ye lauch, think or smile tho, it wull hae achieved somethin.