VALENTINE’S DAY, just two weeks away on our calendar, came to be celebrated as a day of romance about the 14th Century.
The holiday had origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February. The festival included fertility rites and the pairing of women with men by lottery. At the end of the 5th Century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men – both named Valentine – on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd Century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
When it comes to sentimental expressions of love, the Victorians were probably the best. George Nathaniel, Lord Curzon was a late Victorian aristocrat, Chancellor of Oxford University, Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Viceroy of India, and author of more than 20 books.
At 39, he married Mary Leiter, an American heiress. Mary was very sickly.
It wasn’t a Valentine’s Day greeting card, but in 1905, to celebrate what he believed to be her recovery from a serious illness, he wrote a poem to her:
“I would have torn the stars from the Heavens for your necklace / I would have stripped the rose-leaves for your couch from all the trees / I would have spoiled the East of its spices for your perfume, / The West of all its wonders to endower you with these. / I would have drained the ocean, to find its rarest pearl drops, / And melt them for your lightest thirst in ruby draughts of wine: / I would have dug for gold till the earth was void of treasure / That, since you had no riches, you might freely take of mine. / I would have drilled the sunbeams to guard you through the daytime, / I would have caged the nightingales to lull you to your rest; / But love was all you asked for, in waking or in sleeping / And love I give you, sweetheart, at my side and on my breast.”
Mary died a year later of heart failure. Kedleston, the Curzon family seat, is her tomb, this love song her epitaph.
Maybe you feel Curzon’s expression of love was a bit schmaltzy. Hear are a few that win the prize in that category:
“Excuse me, do you have your phone number, I seem to have lost mine.”
“There must be something wrong with my eyes. I can’t take them off you.”
“Was your daddy a thief, ‘cause someone stole the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes.”
“Was your daddy king for a day? He must have been to make a princess like you.”
“Are you a surgeon? ‘Cause you just took my heart away!”
“Excuse me, I lost my teddy bear. Will you sleep with me tonight?”
JACK SMITH is a retired high school and college English teacher.