William S. Burroughs’ A Thanksgiving Prayer: Thanks for the Last and Greatest Betrayal of the Last and Greatest of Human Dreams

William S. Burroughs, most famous for his novel Naked Lunch, is often cited as a major influence for the original cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and John Shirley. His works have always had the hard punk mentality that has come to be loved in cyberpunk media. Burroughs even wrote a script for a movie called Blade Runner, which was purchased by Ridley Scott so they could steal the title.

William Gibson wrote in an article for Wired:

When I was 13, in 1961, I surreptitiously purchased an anthology of Beat writing – sensing, correctly, that my mother wouldn’t approve. Immediately, and to my very great excitement, I discovered Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and one William S. Burroughs – author of something called Naked Lunch, excerpted there in all its coruscating brilliance. Burroughs was then as radical a literary man as the world had to offer, and in my opinion, he still holds the title. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever been quite as remarkable for me, and nothing has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing.

John Shirley said in an interview with Motherboard:

I’d say cyberpunk’s influences also include non-genre writers, like the beat writers, William Burroughs, or the edgy 
poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

If there is a cyberpunk anthem for the Thanksgiving holidays it is Burroughs’s A Thanksgiving Prayer. It is crude. It is caustic. It is vile. And it is honest. It holds no delusions about the “infallibility” of humanity.

Below I have included the poem in it’s full text. Be warned, some people may find the language offensive:

For John Dillinger,
In hope he is still alive.

Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts —

Thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison —

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger —

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot —

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes —

Thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through —

Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces —

Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers —

Thanks for laboratory AIDS —

Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs —

Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business —

Thanks for a nation of finks —


Thanks for all the memories… all right, let’s see your arms…
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

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Veritas is a cyberpunk and writer who enjoys all aspects of the cyberpunk genre and subculture. He also journeys deeply into the recesses of the dissonance exploring his nihilistic existence. If you'd like to contact Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas), the founder and editor-in-chief of Neon Dystopia, you can do so here: ilwheeler.founder@neondystopia.com
  1. Never read this poem and I’m internally conflicted about it. On one hand it was hard mean and no nonsense…on the other hand it was poetic honest and yet sad as well. I don’t know even as I am writing this comment I’m still torn. Never the less I am glad you posted it and I am equally glad I did read it. Thank You.

    • You’re welcome. That kind of harsh intenisity is a hallmark of William S. Burroughs style. Although more surreal, his acclaimed novel Naked Lunch has the same kind of raw intensity.

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