Time for the fifth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Binge. Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing good reason to eat chocolate, tell people close to me that I love them, and hide lovely poems around town. On with the celebration!
In a dark romantic bar with plenty of private corners for canoodling, I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” against a cocktail menu on a table for two.
The first line is overly familiar, but it’s worth taking a minute to read the rest. Browning marries high-minded love–
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise
with a physical passion–
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!
The table was empty when I left the poem, but a short while later, a couple took over the booth. I slunk past to see what had happened to the poem, and found that the woman had put it under a wine glass, like a coaster. The poem seemed to have had a romantic effect on the two–
Unfortunately the pull of texting won out over the pull of passion put to use/In my old Griefs
I went to the last remaining bookstore chain in my area and left “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti in a section featuring books on love and relationships. Specifically, I put it on top of a book (top shelf) called What I Love About You:
I thumbed through the book and found that the sweet nothings there were truly nothing compared to Rossetti’s soaring lines. Wildly in love, the speaker proclaims the commencement of a new love to be a new birth-day for her:
the birthday of my life
is come, my love is come to me
Rossetti is usually my go-to girl for the anti-Valentine portion of this annual love-poem post, but this time I turned to an ancient Japanese poet named Otomo No Yakamochi to fill that role. I left a short poem of his in a high school. Swim practice was underway, and plenty of teens, lovelorn and otherwise, loitered in the hallway after school.
I was thinking of teenagers in love, teenagers experiencing their first love, and eventually, for most, facing the end of first love and all the beautiful illusions it brought.
Alas, the rest of my poems were placed in that most prosaic and least-romantic of places, the mall. But it was cold outside, and the idea of traipsing around looking for more interesting spots was an idea better suited to a younger and warmer elf.
I returned to Victoria’s Secret (where last year I took one of my favorite pictures ever) to leave “Couples” by Romanian poet Nina Cassain. I set the poem in a red lace panty set and wondered who would buy such a cliche, man or woman.
I haven’t figured this poem out completely, but it reminds me of some interesting advice my girlfriend’s mother gave her. Always love a man less than he loves you, she said. Presumably it was safer. But Cassain sees a benefit to loving more:
The one who loves more
is the happier.
Indeed, the happiest!
I wish I could know if the man or woman who buys this Valentine underwear is the one who loves more or the one who loves less. And if they consider themselves to have the better bargain.
Pablo Neruda was the poet I placed last year in the Victoria’s Secret underwear. This year I put him in a less promising spot, the luggage department at Macys. But “Love Sonnet XLV” is so romantic it infuses the whole floor with charm:
After I took the pictures, I zipped up the poem inside the suitcase. I dream of the person packing for a trip who finds these lines
In the Apple Store, the most crowded store in the mall on the day before Valentine’s Day, I put a few lines of Alexander Pushkin on top of an iPad display:
I’m enamored of the way this lover speaks to his lost love. He wishes her well, he wishes her a new love. This isn’t the kind of ex-lover we see in movies. Pushkin is a sweet counterpoint to all those stalkers and revenge seekers. (That’s Pushkin’s face I pulled up on the iPad.)
Finally, in Macy’s kitchen section I left Donald Hall’s “Summer Kitchen.” This one is for my own Valentine, a lover of food and cooking.
Donald Hall was married to poet Jane Kenyon for twenty-three years before she died of leukemia. This poem strikes me as very Kenyon-like, celebrating their daily love, settled and quiet:
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With so much hate in the world, this year I cherish Valentine’s Day all the more. Love trumps hate, I believe that with all my heart. (And the pun is intended.)