“If ever two were one, then surely we,” wrote Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, “If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.” Shakespeare, however, takes a different approach, the speaker of his verse contrasting his woman against a world of fakes: “I think my love,” he says, “as rare as any she belied with false compare.”
The speaker of a poem by early 20th century poet Amy Lowell asks, “Why should I leave you, to wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?” Conversely, Irish poet W.B. Yeats is a bit harder-edged, less optimistic: “Wine comes in at the mouth,” he wrote, “And love comes in at the eye; that’s all we shall know for truth before we grow old and die. I lift the glass to my mouth, I look at you, and I sigh.”
Of course, a little sentimental verse—or non-sentimental, depending on the case—may be fitting for this coming Tuesday, which is Valentine’s Day. It’s certainly a day that is high on the priority list for marketers, right in line with Christmas and Black Friday.
Valentine’s Day, which derives its name after Valentinus, or St. Valentine, originated in the midst of both Christian and pagan traditions. The celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, occurred during the ides of February on the 15th. It is believed around the time of Valentinus’ death, approximately 270 A.D., that the Christian church imposed the St. Valentine’s Day feast to replace the original pagan festival of Lupercalia.
Ultimately, at the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was outlawed by Christians, and February 14th was declared Valentine’s Day by the Pope. Later, in the Middle Ages, during the 14th century when Geoffrey Chaucer was writing his famous (and somewhat sordid) Canterbury Tales, and chivalrous courtly love prevailed, Valentine’s Day finally became connected with romance, considering that the middle of February was also considered the beginning of the mating season for birds.
Our American Valentine’s Day got its start in 17th century England when it was first celebrated there, and by the 18th century, it was commemorated by the sharing of tokens of affection. The printing press made way in the 19th century for printed Valentine’s cards.
The day has certainly grown in American popular culture over time. According to the History Channel, roughly 150 million cards are exchanged each Valentine’s Day. It is second only to the Christmas holiday when it comes to sending out cards.
Valentine’s Day card exchanges were, perhaps, one of the first remembrances of our childhood celebrations of the holiday, along with candy, which, of course, comes in after Halloween in terms of procurement of sweet treats. I can recall looking fondly toward buying packs of Valentine’s Day cards each year at Walmart, going home and penciling classmates’ names on them, ensuring that the best ones were apportioned to classmates I liked the most, and then hoping I received at least a few “favorable” ones when it came time for the switcharoo.
Nowadays, it seems, Valentine’s Day has an even bigger stake in the world of adults than it was for us as children toting around our homemade boxes filled with printed Valentine cards. Many males—generally competitive by nature—feel compelled to outdo other males when it comes to their significant others. Those who never think of sending along a single flower or a small, colorful sprig of flora suddenly order expensive, gargantuan vases of flowers—usually roses—to be delivered. Wouldn’t it be more logical to spread out some of that “love” over time instead, perhaps, by having smaller, less showy displays delivered periodically?
Then there are those who aren’t sure how best to offer emblems of affection, thinking as men do, relishing more practical gifts such as tools and toolboxes. Thus, they venture to the store and purchase a practical gift for a Valentine—while it is a well-known and widely-dispersed fact that women, by and large, abhor practical gifts. I know: I once received a hair dryer as a Valentine’s Day gift.
Therefore, for those of the male persuasion, keep in mind to avoid the practical. For some, the practicality—or lack thereof—might even be worse than the gift I once received, as some women receive items such as vacuum cleaners for Valentine’s Day presents. I must say: at least I can use a hair dryer. A vacuum cleaner, though? For that, I have no use.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and has served on the board of directors at Corinth Theatre-Arts. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.)