Edinburgh World Heritage - Learn more about the remarkable woman who lies behind the pen name of ‘Clarinda’

 

Learn more about the remarkable woman who lies behind the pen name of ‘Clarinda’

Inside the Kirkyard is a circular bronze panel showing a woman’s head in profile with the name ‘Clarinda’ carved below. Clarinda was a famed muse of our National poet Robert Burns.

Born as Agnes Craig in 1758, she was the daughter of a Glasgow surgeon. As a young woman a chance encounter on a journey to Edinburgh led Agnes to meet her future husband, a lawyer named James Maclehose. The story goes that her great beauty so affected Maclehose that he booked all the other seats on the Glasgow to Edinburgh coach - just so that he could be alone with her on the ten-hour journey. They married in 1776. Yet despite these romantic beginnings, their marriage proved to be very unhappy and they separated in December 1780.

Agnes moved to Edinburgh shortly after and started to write poetry, becoming passionately interested in the work of her contemporaries. In December 1787, Agnes was introduced to Robert Burns. Their meeting kindled a correspondence, with them assuming the pen names 'Clarinda' and 'Sylvander', which continued after Burns left Edinburgh the following year to return to Ayrshire.

However, they met for one last time here in Edinburgh in 1791. This final parting inspired Burns to pen one of his finest works which opens with the couplet:
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!

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