Sunday, February 14, 2010

February 14: Love Is in the Air

Today you might well ask, Who is St. Valentine and why has "his" day become a romantic holiday? Valentine's Day, drily described by Wikipedia as: "traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards," doesn't really seem like a holiday that would receive traditional Christian support. No one seems really sure exactly who Valentine was beyond his being a Roman Christian who may or may not have performed what were then illegal Christian marriages. There's the tenuous connection, I guess. Apparently Geoffrey Chaucer was the first one to reference St. Valentine's Day in English in his poem Parlement of Foules, which I mentioned yesterday. An excellent prose translation of this poem by Gerald NeCastro of the University of Maine footnotes this fact. So perhaps we have Chaucer to thank for the romantic tradition, which later bloomed more fully with the exchange of greeting cards in the Victorian era and has now become an excuse for couples to go out to dinner and buy each other sweets and florid cards with messages made up by a bunch of people in cubicles in Kansas City. (For sweets, I highly recommend Maine-made chocolates by Black Dinah Chocolatiers.)

In his poem, Chaucer defined Valentine's Day as the day when birds choose their mates. The poem itself is an entertaining discourse on love, in which the narrator falls asleep and is taken in a dream to the halls of Venus, where all the birds are gathered around waiting to pair up. You can imagine the noise level and sexual tension. The day's proceedings get off to a bad start when three eagles get into an argument over who gets to choose the comely female eagle perched on Venus's arm. The day drags on as other birds, anxious to find their mates, debate in parliamentary fashion how this decision should be made. The goose thinks the female should only go with a mate she really loves; the dove believes in being true to his mate until he dies, etc. Finally the female eagle asks if she can wait till next year to decide. All that debating apparently gave her a headache. I'm not sure if I would recommend this as a romantic poem to share with your lover today (Pablo Neruda and e.e. cummings, for example, have better love offerings), but it's a fun read--keeping in mind that I was an English major and "fun" might be a relative term.

Chaucer or not, just looking out my window I see signs that love is in the air. Squirrels spiral after each other around trunks, bushy tails waving enticements. The insistent "peter, peter" song of the titmice rings out through the trees. The male downy woodpecker knocks on the old birch tree, an early territorial announcement. And owl courtship season is fully underway--friends report that they've been hearing great horned owls this week in the woods around their house, and others have been seeing barred owls on the move. That restlessness that leads us slowly and agonizingly into spring has begun to stir in the woods as surely as the still-chilly breeze. Brace yourselves, everyone. This isn't an easy season.

Husband who chose me,
may our bond be as solid
as that of ravens.

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