Sunday, February 14, 2010

Week o' Love: Day 7

And now a blog for the women:

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Today is Valentine's Day, the day on which we celebrate love, especially romantic love. The holiday was named after an early Christian priest, St. Valentine, who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D.

The tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine's Day originates from the martyr Valentine himself. The legend maintains that due to a shortage of enlistments, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in an effort to bolster his struggling army. Seeing this act as a grave injustice, Valentine performed clandestine wedding rituals in defiance of the emperor. Valentine was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death by beheading. While awaiting his fate in his cell, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with the daughter of a prison guard, who would come and visit him. On the day of his death, Valentine left a note for the young woman professing his undying devotion signed "Love from your Valentine."

Poets Robert Browning (books by this author) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (books by this author) carried out one of the most famous romantic correspondences in literary history. They first introduced themselves by epistolary means, and fell in love even before they had met in person. The letter that began their relationship was written by Robert in January 1845; it was essentially a piece of fan mail to esteemed poet Elizabeth Barrett. He wrote:

"I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett — and this is no offhand complimentary letter that I shall write — whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me ..."

Elizabeth Barrett responded right away: "I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. ... Such a letter from such a hand!"

She continued, "I will say that I am your debtor, not only for this cordial letter & for all the pleasure which came with it, but in other ways, & those the highest: & I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, ... in proportion to my love for it & my devotion for it, I must be a devout admirer & student of your works. This is in my heart to say to you & I say it."

They continued writing to each other, clandestinely, for a year and a half, and then they secretly got married in 1846. Right before the wedding, Robert mailed off to Elizabeth a letter that said: "Words can never tell you, however, — form them, transform them anyway, — how perfectly dear you are to me – perfectly dear to my heart and soul. I look back, and in every one point, every word and gesture, every letter, every silence — you have been entirely perfect to me — I would not change one word, one look. I am all gratitude — and all pride (under the proper feeling which ascribes pride to the right source) all pride that my life has been so crowned by you."

And then, the day after the wedding, she wrote to him:
"What could be better than [your] lifting me from the ground and carrying me into life and the sunshine? ... All that I am, I owe you — if I enjoy anything now and henceforth, it is through you."

During their courtship, she was composing sonnets for him, which she presented to him as a wedding gift. The sonnets were published in 1850 and include one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous poems ever:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap".

Now I'll close with one of the most noted writers in the world, from his most romantic play, Mr. William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. This is one of my favorite passages and one I will most likely never say on stage.

A Pair of Star Crossed Lovers....

Act 3, Scene 2

Juliet:

Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds
Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.

Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,

Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night'
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd: so tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them


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