An antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre(aka Rip-off)
The most dreaded day of the year for many dawns today (14th February) where husbands quake, wives sigh and singletons hope. Yeah, right, that day. I am not a fan of St V’s, not in the slightest. It comes not so much of being about as unromantic a soul as possible as the powerful aversion to media manipulation and peer pressure.
The ancient Greeks had a number of different words and concepts for love, quite different from our culture of one-size-fits-all LOVE. St Valentine’s Day focuses on probably the least interesting and most ephemeral of those love concepts, that of eros, or erotic, sexual love, and singles it out for special treatment. When the practise of sending Valentine’s cards began, in Victorian times, cards were actually sent to family members and friends, rather than exclusively to romantic interests. I find it sad that this charming practise has now been overtaken by the narrow definition of love.
Love is a complex muddled thing and is far more than hearts and flowers and chocolates and too often romantic expectations lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Love is a deeper, more exciting and eminently more confusing thing than Hallmark would have us believe.
For your delectation today, I have included four poems about love: one humorous, one serious, one somewhat sentimental and one unfinished fragment that starts the explore the darker side of love.
The first is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at falling in love. It touches on the pain of unrequited love, but that theme is expanded elsewhere.
Falling in love is much like falling sick:
It wasn’t part of the original plan.
There’s never a right time for it,
But when it happens, there comes
A terrible sense of inevitability,
A point when you can’t put it off
For a single second longer
And you succumb wholeheartedly.
It sometimes sneaks up uninvited
Like a stealthy summer cold.
You kid yourself it’s just pollen
That makes eyes and nose run:
The ache you feel is just overwork,
The heat in your veins merely
A reflection of the searing sun
And the shivers that shake you
Are geese parading over your grave.
But as the symptoms grow
So too does the unwelcome news
That there is nothing you can do
And it must run its true course.
Sometimes you recover, wake
To find the signs have vanished
Much like the glistening morning dew
As the sun warms the new day.
A faint uneasy memory remains
And you bless your luck at escaping,
Getting off so lightly this time.
Other times you toss and turn,
Boil and burn for years on end,
Find no relief, no end, no cure.
You get used to it finally,
Grow to enjoy the constant fever.
You won’t die of this disease,
But at times you might wish to.
Falling in love is much like falling ill,
But it is part of someone’s plan.
It’s timing is never our own,
And what we learn from it
Is both its gift and its curse.
The next poem examines love from another aspect, that of how love is what makes us human and vulnerable. It also touches on the element of divine love, and of sacrifice.
Love wounds us.
Like tribal scars,
Love marks us,
Shows us as new
Of raised scar tissue
Label us as different.
Love hurts us:
The brief bold cut
Dripping hot blood
Shows us changed,
Only those who share
Our pattern of scarring
Can see and know
The person we have become,
Or see the beauty and power
Of those indelible wounds,
Invisible to those untouched
By Love’s kind blade.
The third poem in this cycle tries to examine how love feels, how the different seasons of love mimic the seasons of the year. It’s the poem I feel to be the soppiest, and the closest to the roses and hearts of Valentine’s day.
Love is the spring wind
Blowing through the winter reeds,
Melting the edge of ice
And bringing scents of warmer climes.
Love is the electric crackle
That fills the summer air
Before the first thunderstorm
Breaks and rages over us.
Love is the dripping trees
And the fallen leaves of gold
Coating the cooling earth
As autumn chills the nights.
Love is the frozen crunch
Of footsteps through new snow
Treading where no one trod before,
And making a cold path to follow.
Love is the turning year
Where all is renewed
Season by blessed season
For eyes that can see the light.
The final poem is an incomplete fragment. I don’t tend to rework poems once I have finished with them but this one has defied me to finish it. I leave you to ponder on why.
The Dark Side of Love
Love has a dark face,
Beyond the softness
and sweetness and the lost days
Of cherished childhood,
Love has a dark face.
Loves says “NO!”
When we want her to say yes.
Love says, “Never!”
To our hopes and dreams.
Is this truly love then, who
Turns our love away?
Turns us on our heads?
I hope these poems and thoughts go some way to defusing the bomb that is Valentine’s day, and whether you are single or in a relationship, that love of some kind is with you this day, and I end with a poem that has haunted me for many years, also with Love in its title.
George Herbert. 1593–1632
|LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
| Guilty of dust and sin.
|But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
| From my first entrance in,
|Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
| If I lack’d anything.
|‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
| Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
|‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
| I cannot look on Thee.’
|Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
| ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
|‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
| Go where it doth deserve.’
|‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
| ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
|‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
| So I did sit and eat.
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