Robert Burns- Hollie Willie's Prayer

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This poem, which was printed anonymously, and circulated “illegally” so to speak, is composed of 17 stanzas of six verses each, rhyming a a a b a b, which seems to be a recurrent feature in Burns’s poems. (If you look quickly at the poems given in the collection, quite a few seem to follow the same pattern: To a Mouse, for example.) Because we were focusing on the topic of religion last week, I have mainly concentrated on the said topic for the analysis of the poem, although it seems quite relevant. What appears striking at first is the satiric quality of this poem, which attacks one character in particular, and it seems important, to begin with, to concentrate on the ways and means used by Burns to achieve this satirical portrait of a church elder. Furthermore, what is denounced here is not religion as such, but religiosity and the abnormal conduct of supposedly devout believers. And finally, what is at stake is, beyond the attack on Willie Fisher himself, an indictement of strict Calvinist theories. 1. Holy Willie, a Satire. The speaker The humour here seems to arise from the discrepancy between what the speaker says, the “I” of the poem, and what one would expect from such a man as Burns. The “I” of the poem is obviously not the poet himself, and it is not ambiguous as it is in other poems: this fact is clearly explained in the Argument preceding the poem itself. QUOTE. The fact that Robert Burns embodies Holy Willie, and speaks for him seems to give his arguments more power than a mere criticism of Willie’s attitude. In fact, the reader is very nearly in the position of a spy listening to Holy Willie’s prayer, i.e. a very personal moment. The criticism does not come from Burns, so to speak, but from the absurdity of Willie Fisher’s speech. Despite the fact that this poem is clearly an attack, one cannot ignore the humour underlying the poem, v.46
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