Valentine’s Day – love without the claptrap….
Valentine of Terni, martyred circa AD 197, for his Christianity. Another possible origin, Valentine of Rome, circa AD 289, was imprisoned for continuing to wed soldiers after Claudius had outlawed marriage, decreeing armies of single men fought better than those distracted by conjugal delights. Awaiting execution, Valentine is reported to have cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness and fallen in love, his final letter to her signed, ‘from your Valentine’.
Historian Noel Lenski, classics professor at the University of Colorado, argues that there is evidence that an ancient pagan fertility festival was celebrated on 14th February. Called Lupercalia it involved young Roman men strip naked and use goat skins to brush the backsides of young women and fields to improve fertility. A matchmaking lottery followed where men drew women’s names from a jar.
Ah, the romance of it….
Poets and writers have worked hard trying to describe love, employing many figures of speech to convert an abstract concept into something concrete that is easier to understand. Without them how would we know what the poet meant by love is the same thing we think about when we hear the word.
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
The late great Seamus Heaney’s favourite love poem was written nearly five centuries ago. “Whoso List to Hunt” by Sir Thomas Wyatt is an allegory and the deer in the royal park has been assumed to represent Anne Boleyn
Wyatt lived in dangerous times and appears in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. He was a favourite at the Henry VIII’s court and was twice imprisoned for treason – once accused of being Anne Boleyn’s lover. He was saved that time by Thomas Cromwell. Five years later he was once again imprisoned for treason, this time saved by the intercession of Henry’s fifth wife Catherine Howard. Unlike his two supporters, he managed to die in his bed at the age of 39.
I love the originality of Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine where she throws satin hearts and kissograms to one side and compares love to an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips
Nothing, however, matches the sincerity of Wendy Cope’s Giving Up Smoking. It’s very short – too short to quote from without spoiling it – but HERE you can read and hear probably the best compliment one person can give another…
Having said all that, my favourite love poem is not dedicated to a person but a life-saving hospital ward with its grim wash basins and functional cubicles because we love all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons and they are all worth celebrating.
For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap,
photo credit: Vintage Valentine’s Day Postcard via photopin (license)