Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

The earliest mention of Valentine's Day seems to be this one:
For this was on Saynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make,
Of every kynde that men thynke may,
And that so huge a noyse gan they make
That erthe, and eyr, and tre, and every lake
So ful was that unethe was there space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.
And right as Aleyn, in the Pleynt of Kynde,
Devyseth Nature of aray and face,
In swich aray men myghte hire there fynde.
This noble emperesse, ful of grace,
Bad every foul to take his owne place,
As they were woned alwey fro yer to yeere,
Seynt Valentynes day, to stonden there.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 309-322).
The whole poem is in praise of Valentine's Day and seems to be responsible for our current celebration. It is significant that except for the mention of Saint Valentine (309, 322, 386, 683) and an oath by Saint John (451), the poem is bereft of Christianity. Venus (260-273, 351, 652), Cupid (211-217, 652), Priapus (253-259) and other such beings of classical mythology are present and the convocation is convened by Nature.

My favorite lines, though, come earlier:
For out of olde feldes, as men seyth,
Cometh all this newe corn from yer to yere,
And out of olde bokes, in good feyth,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 22-25).
The day gan faylen, and the derke nyght,
That reveth bestes from here besynesse,
Berafte me my bok for lak of lyght,
And to my bed I gan me for to dresse,
Fulfyld of thought and busy hevynesse;
For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde,
And ek I ne hadde that thyng that I wolde.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, 85-91).