Sunday, 14 February 2021

Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

Fat raindrops race down the window pane,  avoiding the shiny, pearly patches of earlier gusts of rain sticking to the unwashed glass, and end in splatters on the lower frame. A busy wind ruffles and drives last autumn’s remaining shrunk and shrivelled leaves across the moss infested grass, to land at the foot of hedges. Blackbirds fight each other for any crumbs left from the handfuls flung out by my generosity; angrily they chase each other and bicker with sharp cries. Mine, all mine, they seem to warn. Were they kin last year? They look adult now, the aggressive males with bright yellow beaks and the females with their brownish speckled breasts, a little in awe of the males. The females might retreat while the male struts his belligerent stuff, but she soon comes back and sneaks food when his back is turned.

Neither Blackbirds nor the weather take the slightest notice of Valentine’s Day. No chocolates, hearts and flowers for me either. Except that I have already set aside a bottle of Rioja, a bit of steak and some liqueur-filled cherry chocolates for later. It’s too wet and cold to bother picking flowering stems in the garden, so no harbingers of spring indoors.

Many of you will know that Valentine’s Day is another of the Christian festivals that took the place of ancient pagan celebrations, for safety’s sake, of course, just in case Christians would be tempted to follow the ancient rituals of naked rampaging and the beating of women for the purpose of ensuring fertility. Plutarch’s description of Lupercalia leaves no doubt:


 "...many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Hardy folk those ancient Romans. Surely even in Rome the middle of February is cold enough for any man running around naked to be in danger of having his bits frozen off? 

A tad different from Hallmark’s contribution to the happiness of modern days females, who are content with a cheesy card promising eternal love and a few chocolates in a giant heart shaped box.

This must be my all-time favourite poem for Valentine’s Day;

‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.


  1. the female blackbirds are not in awe of the males but unimpressed, fleeing to avoid their amorous intentions, sneaking back to eat when their backs are turned. the Jews first, then the Christians appropriating the pagan celebrations. Jewish prophets are full of excoriations against the people's refusals to give up their celebrations. and you have to hand it to the Romans and other pagans, they embraced sex and sexuality unlike the christians who turned it into something shameful.

  2. Love that poem - which I had not come across before. Thank you. It strikes me as rather more realistic than the Hallmark version.
    I am glad that the female blackbirds sneak back to get their fill.

  3. But the Bible says the marriage bed is undefiled. In other words, married couples can make love five times daily if they choose - and take their time. No shame ;)

  4. We laugh and shake our heads at the customs of old. I wonder how long before people laugh and shake their heads at ours.

  5. You really didn't mention chocolate covered cherries? Now I will crave them all day and it is too nasty to get out to find some. Oh well.
    Had to laugh at the naked rampaging in Rome in February and the frozen bits. Those were some brave young men. Kind of happy we have gotten kinder and gentler for the holiday. Have a good one.

  6. Your opening line is novel worthy. No kidding.

    I thought I knew a lot about Valentine's Day but if I knew about the naked rampaging in Rome and beating women I've long forgotten about it. And now thanks to Arkansas Patti above I want chocolate covered cherries!

  7. By jove, it's good to have you back with pen in hand. I find that a more poetic image than you tapping away at the keyboard.

  8. Wow! This is one of my favorite poems! I have now met someone who knows of it!

  9. Lupercalia - that's a new one to me. All faiths seem to have fertility rites and celebrations - I guess that's understandable.
    We have so few birds in our garden here - the crows and the cats bully them away; a sadness. We should have a festival for birds!

  10. The thought of Romans running naked through the streets in February made me laugh. I can imagine they ran very quickly! I baked cookies for Valentine's Day treats for our children and grandchildren, and there are enough for us to enjoy here at home too. Maybe too many.

  11. I would think the winter's chill would make those naked guys less, um, impressive.

    Valentine's seems like such a forced holiday to me. We don't really observe it.

  12. Happy V Day, friend Friko.

  13. Your well written winter scene was alive to me. Thank You, Friend

  14. I like the poem very much. Thank you.

  15. Ah well, these days I'd be quite happy with a cheesy card and some heart chocolates. 💖

  16. I hope you enjoyed your steak and Rioja, and the chocolates!
    We don't "do" Valentines, never have done, but our 5th anniversary of being together is coming up at the end of this month. As we enjoy each other's company, a bottle of good wine and some nice food anyway, I don't think we'll do anything much different. There might be flowers, which would be nice of course.

  17. It is a pleasure to read your prose, Friko, and I enjoyed your cutting commentary on Valentine's Day. It really has become an over-the-top event fuelled of course by the insatiable greed of merchandisers who think of new ways to separate the gullible from their money. I was delighted to hear that the blackbirds are starting to disport with each other - and the males don't even have to bring chocolate!

  18. I especially enjoyed your first paragraph, Friko. It was so descriptive and beautifully written.

    Silly and dumb customs have been part of youth forever.

    My Retired Man and I have been together for 53 years. We might have sent each other a sentimental Hallmark card at times, but mostly we try to find one that makes us smile.

  19. Hi Friko - excellent post to read ... and Carol Ann Duffy's poem I hadn't seen - so true and just right for a giggling thought of one who has onions, but no man ... still I'm content. But the idea of a Rioja, some steak and liqueur chocs perhaps sound even better. We have a brief patch of sun ... so I'm off out into it. With thoughts - Hilary

  20. Happy Valentine's Friko! We don't celebrate Valentine's much here. DH and I might exchange cards, but with the Arctic weather and the pandemic, we don't get out to even buy cards these days. I did bake DH and grandson some dark chocolate peanut butter brownies. I like your poem (and onions), but would much prefer chocolate on Valentines (or any other time).

  21. I don't know that poem but it is simply brilliant. As are your words.I feel like I'm in your home, looking out your window on this day, watching the birds. Not watching. Studying. The Rioja sounds wonderful and so does the dinner. From where I sit, a wonderful day.

  22. Great Valentine poem. Good to reconnect with your blog Friko. Thank you for reaching out to me...remembering me. Since I haven't been checking in for some time--quite a long time--I didn't know you lost your beloved. I'm so deeply sorry for your loss, for how this loss has affected every part of your life, including your writing. But you said in one post, "I want to concentrate on being truthful rather than bang on about facts." I will look forward to more of your truthful posts.

  23. And of course poor old Valentine was slaughtered wasn't he, was it stabbed to death? A great symbol of love indeed.

    Always puts me in mind of the cross and Jesus hanging banged up, bleeding, dead.

    And telling children this is god, we should worship as he is all powerful. And I remember my shocked child-response: "But he is dead, he can't do anything."


  24. Oh, I like that poem. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  25. Hello Friko,

    Well, such a cornucopia of delights you offer to us for Valentine's Day. Naked orgies, chocolate liqueurs, Rioja, steak, Hallmark cards and, saving the best until last, Carol Ann Duffy's poem.

    We had not seen this, 'Ode to an Onion', but loved its bittersweet tenderness which one associates with a deep and lasting love.

    At times, the world simply seems to have gone completely mad. But, then, a majestic piece of music, a well written novel, a beautifully painted picture or a well crafted poem can really make us appreciate the joy of human existence and life itself. Art is the highest form of hope, it is said....and we concur with that.

  26. What a wonderful poem. I've never come across it before, or the poet. It did bring to mind a country expression from Texas: 'cutting onions,' which of course is a way of excusing the shedding of tears.

    I've always loved Valentines' Day, but I tend to ignore the commercialization. My affection's rooted in shoeboxes made into Valentine boxes, and making cards out of construction paper and cake doilies and such. When I was in 4th grade, a boy I liked brought me a pink, frilly, heart-shaped box of candy. It was the best Valentine's Day ever, and never has been surpassed.

    This year, my upstairs neighbor, a nice young woman who's perhaps 35 or so, left some roses for me. Sweet, unexpected, and a lovely gesture. As soon as I feel I can count on the power staying on, I'm going to bake one of my apple cakes and share it with her.

  27. your opening was like readinga lovely poem. you do have a way woth words and word pictures. Those Romans!

  28. Delighted with the pictures your words painted ,,, and the poem ... new to me. Oh, those Romans!

  29. Your words are beautiful and I'm delighted to be introduced to that poem. I'll never look at an onion in quite the same way.


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