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The sixth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz ran into some glitches this year, which is why it’s arriving so late. I knew it was going to be a few hours late because I’m on Hawaii time, but I didn’t expect (who does) to wake up on Valentine’s Day and discover my purse was stolen. I had to spend a few hours with the police and the credit card companies instead of on this post. I can’t complain because, well, Hawaii. Also because my son found my purse in the bushes up the street and the dumb kids who broke in only took my money and not my credit cards, license, favorite lipstick, or prescription sunglasses.

if you have to get your purse stolen, better here than in Michigan

if you have to get your purse stolen, better here than in Michigan

 

Anyway, the show must go on.

 

I’m without my own valentine this Valentine’s Day—he’s travelling in Asia–but his absence doesn’t dim my enthusiasm for my favorite holiday. Forget about chocolates and roses and candlelight—it’s a great day stripped of all that, a day to celebrate love in all its forms and manifestations. After all, what other holiday is dedicated to one single emotion?

 

Let’s start with a poem I’ve posted before (at my niece’s wedding). Fulvia Lupulo’s poem was just the thing to leave at a fancy hotel where couples go to canoodle and watch the sun set over the spectacular Hanalei Bay. This couple from Seattle was celebrating their third anniversary. Look how happy they are!

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You don’t need to have a romantic partner to understand that being loved is transformational.

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Honeymooners and babymooners (something I only recently heard of) are everywhere here in Hanalei, but I also see a lot of long-married couples. For them I taped “A Decade” by Amy Lowell (1874-1925) on a tree much older than that.

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poem is on tree root

The ease of these older couples as they walk the beach or wade into the surf together is a delight to watch. Less red wine and honey and more morning bread.

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Here’s one for brand-new Valentines, “Rondeau” by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). I taped it to a park bench under a tree on the beach, just right for a first kiss.

poem is on bench back

poem is on bench back

Hunt’s poem is a sweet reminder of the thrill of that first contact.

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Galentines is a thing these days, not a typo, a day (the day before Valentine’s Day, actually) to celebrate friendship. I’m changing it to Palentines so men are included, and so for all pals I left an excerpt from Shakespeare’s “To Me, Fair Friend” under a wooden statue of an old surfer in Hanalei Town. The surfer is making the shaka sign, a friendly greeting made popular by surfers and Hawaiians.

 

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The gray-haired, wrinkle-chested surfers you meet around here truly are, in dress and demeanor, ageless. Boys by any measure of the spirit.

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For those who find Valentines Day painful, I taped William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) “Down by the Salley Gardens” on a flowery phone booth right outside a lively bar where couples are busy coupling.

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Yeats is the poster boy for unrequited love. He courted Maud Gonne for thirty years and it all came to this: But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

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For break-ups that are more bittersweet than heartbreaking, I present this Frank O’Hara poem (1926-1966), “Animals.” I wedged it in a display of Valentine animals of unknown species in the grocery store.

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The older I get, the more I love this poem and these lines in particular:

when we were still first rate

and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

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For my own Valentine, who wakes up today on the opposite side of the Pacific, I taped “Tides” by Hugo Williams (b. 1942) to some twigs and stuck it in the sand at high tide.

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For that is happiness: to wander alone

Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves

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That’s it! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Or Happy Day-After Valentine’s Day if that’s what it is by the time you read this!

 

And yes, Happy Valentine’s day even to the punks who stole my money—may you find the love that heals whatever ails you.

 

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ImageTime for the Third Annual Valentine’s Day Poem Elfing.  (If you’re looking for more love poems, you can check out previous Valentine’s Day posts in 2013 and 2012.)  

 

Coincidentally, just as I was sitting down to work on this post, I got a Valentine in the mail.  I can’t think of the last time I got a Valentine in the mail.  Such a little thing to make me so happy! Maybe these poems will spread a little happiness too.

 

In a candy store full of Valentine’s Day treats, I left James Laughlin’s “You Came as a Thought” by a biscotti jar at the front register:

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I send this out to my 87 year-old aunt, long widowed from the love of her life and now happily dating a man she’s known since childhood. Here in a nutshell is why love can be so beautiful:  you came as a song when I had/ finished singing 

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Clearly I’m partial to the love between old people, because I left another poem for elderly lovers at the post office.  “Words from the Front” by Ron Padgett is on the window to the right of the door.

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Judy Garland may sing about the ickiness of overhearing other people’s love babble in “Baby Talk” from the movie Easter Parade, but somehow Padgett makes us glad to listen to it.

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There’s a path along a creek where I love to leave poems because a woman I’ve never seen leaves lovely art projects there from time to time. She uses old flowers, pine cones, twigs and rocks.  Her works were nowhere to be seen, buried in snow, out of season I guess, as is Robert Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose.”  The poem is attached to a little branch on a vine-covered tree:

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The first line of the poem is so overly-familiar that I never noticed how beautiful the rest of it is.  I’d love to hear these words every day:   And I will love thee still, my dear/Till a’ the seas gang dry. And who wouldn’t rather hear “Fare thee well!” than “Later!”?

 

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In the hair care aisle of CVS I left a delicate little Japanese poem by a poet named Hitomaro.  The poem is leaning against the pink shampoo bottle on the top shelf.

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I’ve had this poem a long time (it was from a little cloth-bound book of haikus belonging to my father) and I’ve always thought it deeply romantic.  

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Without intending to, I poem-elfed two poems by poet and novelist Vikram Seth.  I chose them for those people who have a hard time on Valentine’s Day.  The first one, “Protocols,” I left on the gym doors of a local high school.  The poem is on the glass to the right of the white doors.

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High school seemed a fitting place for a poem about the aftermath of a fight.  But high schoolers don’t have a monopoly on drama between friends and lovers, so I send this out to all who desire reconciliation or resolution in their relationships.

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The second poem by Vikram Seth, “All You Who Sleep Tonight,” I left at a roadside motel.  The poem is on the orange post in front of room 42.

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The motel struck me as a lonely-hearts place:

IMG_0849  And here’s the poem:

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Finally, a Valentine poem for my own sweetheart.  I put Grace Paley’s “Love”  in his backpack as I drove him to the airport.  He’s in China, leaving us both alone on Valentine’s Day, so I sent him with a poem to connect us.

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I love that moment Paley describes of seeing the long-loved person anew.  That’s a moment I’ll experience myself when my husband of 26 years returns home after two weeks away.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  To one and all! Love is for every single human being, not just for couples.  Give it, take it, spread it, relish it.

 

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I was just at the post office mailing my Valentine’s Day cards, and there I met the friendliest woman on the planet.  In five minutes’ conversation we covered the Pope’s resignation, all the Charlie Brown characters we could remember, her favorite candies, recent films we’ve seen, and who she’s sending Valentine cards to.  After a while I asked her,  “Are you always so friendly?”  “Yes,” she said, “I have to be.  Every day is a gift, that’s how I look at it.”  She told me her husband died two years ago.  “And look at me,” she said, “I’m pretty young for that.”

 

She’s on my mind, that bubbly stranger.  I don’t know her name but I dedicate this Valentine’s Day post to her.  She lost the love of her life but she hasn’t lost love.

 

So here’s my annual Valentine’s Day poem-spending spree:

 

Costco had a jewelry booth for Valentine’s Day and that seemed like a good place to leave Ogden Nash’s “A Word to Husbands.”

poem is on display table above the apostrophe

poem is on display table above the apostrophe

 

Whenever you’re right, shut up” is excellent advice for any lover, not just husbands.

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Pottery Barn was selling a few Valentine’s Day gifts by the register.  When the salesperson’s back was turned, I folded up “24th September 1945” by Nazim Hikmet and stuffed it in the silver heart box.

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Hikmet was a Turkish poet and wrote the poem in prison.  In spite of the date in the title, the poem is timeless, and a good one for lovers who hope that the happiest days are still ahead.  

before I folded it up

before I folded it up

 

On a little path that runs by a creek, a woman I’ve never seen leaves quirky arrangements of twigs, flowers, rocks, pinecones, leaves and whatever else is nearby.  She does her work in secret and so do I.  As a way of introducing myself to her, I left Nikki Giovanni’s “A Poem of Friendship” by one of her “installations” that wasn’t covered by snow.

poem is to the left of the pole

poem is to the left of the pole

 

It rained heavily the night after I left this poem, so I hope it’s still there for nature lovers to find on a romantic or platonic stroll.

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Teenagers have so many ways to be miserable and so many ways of hiding that misery. I left Jack Gilbert’s “The Abandoned Valley” at the entrance of a local high school as a reminder that Valentine’s Day is a great holiday to reach out to people who are lonely.

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door

 

The image of a well might not be familiar to today’s high schoolers, but “being alone so long” is to most.

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Allan Ginsburg found Walt Whitman in the grocery store, so I figured he might belong in the drug store too.  I put Whitman’s poem “As Adam Early in the Morning” on a shelf  at Rite Aid loaded with diet products.

poem is on middle shelf in front of Alli

poem is on middle shelf in front of alli

 

“Be not afraid of my body” says Whitman, and I hope dieters won’t be afraid of their own.  No one should have to buy a product that makes them shit in their pants just to get someone to love them or so they can love themselves.  No body type is unlovable!

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For years poet Ted Kooser sent out postcards with a new poem every Valentine’s Day.  One of them, “For You, Friend,” I left at a candy store.

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

lovely Judy will help you

lovely Judy will help you

 

If anyone’s looking for the best chocolate on the planet and you live near Inkster, Michigan, this is the place for you.

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Finally, I left a Valentine poem for my own valentine in pretty much the same place I left one last year, outside his office:

poem is to left of Comerica sign

poem is on window to left of Comerica sign

 

For you, dearest heart, Robert Bly’s “A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other.”

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Spread some love!

 

 

 

 

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Poem is on right side of entry way

 

MIRAGE

 

by: Christina Rossetti

 

THE hope I dreamed of was a dream,

Was but a dream; and now I wake

Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,

For a dream’s sake.

 

I hang my harp upon a tree,

A weeping willow in a lake;

I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt

For a dream’s sake.

 

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;

My silent heart, lie still and break:

Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed

For a dream’s sake.

 

 

 

Inception-movie-image by gwendolyn maiaThe best place for Christina Rossetti’s poem “Mirage” would be in the opening credits of Inception II.  That is, if you’re in the camp that believes Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was still dreaming at the end of the original movie.

 

Inception is about the only place where this poem wouldn’t serve as a gloating over another person’s suffering.  Hidden in a gift shop’s Valentine’s Day display, The hope I dreamed of was a dream,/Was but a dream would be a bad omen or painful reminder.  Tucked in with graduation cards, it would mock the relentless urging to follow dreams.   The college prep section of Barnes and Noble, the cast list for a high school play or a dressing room mirror during bikini season would all be mean-spirited spots to leave this poem.

 

It seemed less unkind to leave it at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.  I do hope no Anna Karenina’s staggered nearby who might be driven to the train tracks by the poem’s despair.  I left the poem as a diversion for train travelers, not a mirror, as a reminder that the train they just entered or exited can be a place of dramatic emotions, a scene of separation, the end of a romance. The D.C. station seems particularly appropriate for the poem because D.C., like L.A. and New York City, attracts some of the most ambitious dreamers in the country.   Unlike those other cities, ambition in D.C. is often tied to idealism, a sure combination for the kind of bitter disappointment in the poem.

 

The hope dreamed of in this poem is romantic, not professional and certainly not political.  It speaks of a heartache I’ve never experienced.  I myself am not one to bet the bank on a romantic dream.  I like to think I have good judgment where men are concerned.  But it’s true that I haven’t had many occasions to exercise said judgment.  Perhaps I try not to want anything so badly that not getting it will crush me.  Enlightened detachment or damage?  An open question.

 

At any rate, my instinct to detach makes me a terrible consoler for the broken-hearted, especially for one of my daughters who these days seems ever in the throes of romantic dreams.  Many times I’ve mistakenly thought that if I could help her see she’s misreading signals or that a prospect isn’t worth her attention, I could prevent her from feeling exceeding comfortless.  It hasn’t worked.  In fact, my attempts at consolation have earned me the unfortunate nickname of “Dream Crusher.”  Dream Crusher! my husband sings, Put on your boots and crush those dreams!

 

Dream Crusher reads this poem and says, Get it together, girl!  You don’t want to end up like Ophelia (drowned) or Miss Havisham (cobwebbed).  And next time, sister, don’t pin all your hopes to a man.

 

But the Poem Elf in me loves this poem.  It’s gorgeous.  It asks to be heard out loud, to be memorized, to be stashed away for gloomy days.

 

My delight in the despair comes from the intricate way Rossetti uses tricks of sound to suggest more than is actually said.  The rhyme scheme hinges on a single sound, “ake,” which if you didn’t notice can also be spelled “ache.”  The harp, hung up on a tree and broken, carries a sound-suggestion of “heart” even before she mentions the word.  “Lie still” she commands her heart, but the command echoes an accusation she may have thrown at the lover who betrayed her.  The repetition in each verse becomes a keening:  was a dream,/was but a dream, she wails, and we see her rocking back in forth in anguish.

 

For all its sweet tones, the poem is violent.  Hints of suicide lurk in the stanzas.  The harp is wrung and snapt  like a neck.  It hangs from a tree.  And the lake holds promise of a final silencing, a means to lie still forever.

 

Christina Rossetti by Ma-BellyChristina Rossetti (1830- 1894) was born in London to an Italian family of high Romantic pedigree.  Her father was a poet, her mother the sister of Byron’s friend and doctor, her brother Dante an artist and poet, and her two other siblings writers.  She was a central player in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, serving as the model for several paintings and was certainly the strongest poet in the group.  She lived with her mother her whole life and never married although she had plenty of suitors.   As a very pious Anglican, Rossetti ended one engagement because her fiancé re-converted to Catholicism.  She turned down two others for religious reasons.  She died of breast cancer a few weeks after her 64th birthday.

 

I have a t-shirt with one of her poems on it (from a sister’s weekend, see here) and you may have run across “When I Am Dead, My Dearest” searching for a funeral material.  This animated video of her reciting that poem is really creepy, more suited to Halloween than the week before Valentine’s Day.  Sorry, Dream Crusher insisted on posting the link.

 

But Poem Elf wanted you to see another picture from Union Station:

 

 

 

 

 

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