O Leave Novels

O leave novels, ye Mauchline belles, Ye're safer at your spinning-wheel; Such witching books are baited hooks For rakish rooks, like Rob Mossgiel; Your fine Tom Jones and Grandisons, They make your youthful fancies reel; They heat your brains, and fire your veins, And then you're prey for Rob Mossgiel. Beware a tongue that's smoothly hung, A heart that warmly seems to feel; That feeling heart but acts a part - 'Tis rakish art in Rob Mossgiel. The frank address, the soft caress, Are worse than poisoned darts of steel; The frank address, and politesse, Are all finesse in Rob Mossgiel.


Robert Carlyle
Alison Peebles

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1784 and is read here by Robert Carlyle.

More about this poem

These playful song lyrics warn the 'Mauchline belles' not to read novels as the sexuality implicit in Fielding's Tom Jones, and Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison would fire them up and make them 'prey for Rob Mossgiel' - Burns himself!

Burns plays on his reputation as a womaniser and fornicator in these lyrics so that the whole piece becomes a masterwork of self-parody.

Juliet Linden Bicket

Themes for this poem

seduction humour

Locations for this poem


Selected for 26 March

Outliving her husband by 40 years but weakened by a succession of strokes, Jean Armour died on March 26, 1834. She had been a good mother to Burns's children, some not her own, and had been remarkably tolerant of his philandering. Although he came dearly to love Jean, early in their life together Burns wrote some woundingly ungallant and faithless letters about the woman with whom he only reluctantly settled down. No-one else seems to have had a bad word to say about the poet's loyal and long-suffering wife. The seductive 'Rob Mossgeil' had made few bones about the proclivities of 'rakish rooks'. This Mauchline belle did not 'beware a tongue that's smoothly hung'. Today's poem suggests she knew what she was taking on,'for better and for worse'.

Donny O'Rourke

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