My Oxford Dictionary of Saints is informative but confused on the subject of St Valentine: there may have been two Roman martyrs of the same name, both male clergymen of the early Christian Church. Fascinatingly there is no British church with this dedication which may hint that in this country at least there were always doubts as to the Valentines’ authenticity. How the saints became associated with lovers and carnal love is by no means clear though it is interesting that the name can be used by both sexes: Valentine is universally applicable, and how apt is that. There’s Val Doonican of course, and remember Valentine Dyall “The Man In Black”? And Maurice Chevalier’s saucy song “Valentine” about a light of love who spectacularly loses her looks:
” Hier, sur le boulevard, je recontre une grosse dame
Avec des grands pieds, une taille d’hippopotame…”
Talk about laugh!
Most authorities seem to think that our feverish red rosey modern celebration is all tangled up with the old belief that birds mate in mid-February and that this became associated with the reputed martyrdom of the saints around this date, at a time of Roman festival. This, I think, gives a wonderfully optimistic twist to 14th February even if one is crossed in Love and sitting all alone by the gas fire. It’s a day of starting afresh, of recommencement; late winter sunshine shining out just for a day, if only symbolically; a token of life renewed; the beginning of the end of winter.
For see how the days are drawing out already and the energising earthy smell of early spring is just perceptible; the chthonic scent that galvanises the instincts of the animal kingdom and which has such a powerful subliminal effect on us humans. I saw my first powdery green daffodil on February 6th ( a personal record) and delicately musky snowdrops are lighting up the garden in clumps of pearls. The tang of new parsley is once again in the air.
Do you know Thomas Hardy’s wonderful poem The Darkling Thrush – recently recited to great effect on The Archers. Hardy comes across this poor old bird ” ..frail, gaunt and small ” singing his heart out in the bleakest blackest winterscape. And thinks that no doubt
” …there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.”
Need one say more? Be my Valentine?