An Antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre (aka Rip-Off)

  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.

Love (2)

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 (1)

Love wounds us.

Like tribal scars,

Love marks us,

Shows us as new

Initiated beings.

Parallel slashes

Of raised scar tissue

Label us as different.

Love hurts us:

The brief bold cut

Dripping hot blood

Shows us changed,

Reinvented daily.

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 3

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


286. Love

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          5
      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.’   10
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?’   15
      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’  
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  
      So I did sit and eat.  




14 thoughts on “An Antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre (aka Rip-Off)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention An Antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre (aka Rip-Off) « Zen and the art of tightrope walking --

  2. Ah, you put it so well. So much better than my original rant!
    Interesting though that, from what I gather, VD came originally from the Roman lupercalia…festival of fertility, in which young men would whip the buttocks of young girls with doghair whips, if my memory serves me right.
    I love your poems – wish I could write poetry… loved 1 and Dark love in particular… and also the Herbert….of course
    AH well, only another twelve hours or so to endure!


    • It only confirms what I thought about it: a vaguely S+M sort of day!!
      My daughter is a Roman expert(well, getting there) as I made the mistake of teaching her Latin from aged 10 (I home- educated her for 4 years) and so we get all the paralells, like she celebrates Saturnalia instead of Christmas…
      The poems are a few years old, except the fragment I couldn’t finish; the one with the blade imagery has been taken to be about self harm. Which just goes to show how much fights its way through and how much others find that you didn’;t know you’d put there.
      Currently doubling up on porridge because I have to go in earlier to work and won’t get lunch!!
      thanks again for your kind words…


  3. That Herbert poem is one of my favorites. I like your poem sequence. Perhaps someday you will complete the third one in a way that feels right to you.

    We’ve been doing Valentine’s Day as a family. The girls are still at that age where they exchange them with their friends and the event is not yet fraught. At my office we each received Valentine gifts from our supervisors, and everyone in my office went over to an assisted living facility to visit with some of the patients there. Seeing residents’ family members bring in heart balloons and treats communicated a much richer meaning for Valentine’s Day. It would indeed be better if picked up the Victorian custom you mention. I have to admit that I rather like all the red and pink hearts. I suppose its the joy of bright color in the winter.


  4. I hated it in school when there was a valentine post box.
    I do think valentine’s day is situated at a time when the spring energy is really on a roll, santes dwynwen, the welsh equivalent has her day on 25th january.

    a lot of valentine cards and gifts are either mushy/sentimental or probably a bit sexual in nature. There is some worth in looking at sexual love, eros as an important part of relationships. says she who has not had a sexual relationship for 5 years! [and I stress the sexual, not love, because I discovered that that was what it had been on his part]. I have just been reading the entries in Quaker faith & practice about relationships and sexual relationships. but hard to look at when it is not part of your life. But our culture’s attitude to sexual “love” can barely be called love.

    My Nan always sent my brother & I valentines, we knew they were from her but they were never signed, it was lovely. an old friend of mine often sends me one.

    Something astonishing might be about to happen for me on Valentine’s day, but I shall wait until it happens to believe it.


    • According to folklore, it’s the day when the birds choose their mate for the year.
      I very much believe that sexual expression of love are extremely important for maintaining a relationship but I’m not sure whether the context of romance is really the right one for many of us. Passion is not always remotely romantic.
      My first ever Valentine came when I was 18, from someone who never fully declared any feelings and indeed signed the card, the Secret Admirer/Masked admirer. We’d been writing almost daily for about a year at that point. It was a relationship that never bloomed beyond that.
      Victorians used to send Valentines cards to friends and family. I’d like to see that again in place of the commercial cattle market it seems to have become.


  5. JUst feeling ‘raspberry-like’ Instead of inflicting my own contribution to the anti-Valentine party I mind me of DP Better late than never!

    By the time you swear you’re his,
    Shivering and sighing,
    And he vows his passion is
    Infinite, undying –
    Lady, make a note of this:
    One of you is lying.
    Dorothy Parker


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