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Location: Austin, TX, United States

Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On St. Valentine's Day

Many on Valentine's Day are the curses heard around the world, and the complaints that Valentine's Day is only a holiday created by the greeting card companies.  While the commercialization of all holidays has swelled the coffers of gift and card makers, the fact remains that Valentine's is a holiday that has been celebrated as the day of love for centuries.

It is not known exactly who St. Valentine was. The History Channel has a wonderful outline of the myths surrounding the holiday’s inception. The earliest surviving copy of a Valentine’s Day love letter dates from 1415, written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife after he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt (cf. the same).

In the Renaissance, English nobility loved getting married on that day - and many are the epithalamions written for such occasions, one more sugary sweet and bombastic than the next (see, for example, one by John Donne).  You also have the Cavalier Poets writing their Carpe diem poems on the occasion — have sex with me now, tomorrow we may both be dead — and one can only wonder how well these worked. My absolute favorite 17th-century poet, Robert Herrick, wrote a lovely, irreverent Valentine's Day poem:

by Robert Herrick

OFT have I heard both youths and virgins say
Birds choose their mates, and couple too this day ;
But by their flight I never can divine
When I shall couple with my valentine.

The best example of Valentine's Day poetry not taking itself seriously is without a doubt by Thomas Nashe, some fifty years earlier.  Nashe was always in trouble with the authorities for the things he wrote — The Choise of Valentines was so pornographic in nature that it could not be published in its day. Go Nashe!

A poem I'd like to share with you on this Valentine's Day was not written specifically for Valentine's Day, but captures beautifully the feelings of passion for one in love.  

 Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile—the Winds—
To a Heart in port—
Done with the Compass—
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor—Tonight—
In Thee!

Emily Dickinson

May we all be lucky in love on this and all through our days.


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