Guys, don’t fear Valentine’s Day, embrace it
Note to readers: this is one of the few times I have written a column addressed to one sex — or gender, if you prefer that term. This one is for the guys facing the next holiday.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and there they are, shuffling through the checkout line of the grocery store in the late afternoon, men holding roses and boxes of chocolates, each of them looking sheepish and angry. The embarrassment stems from the fact that they have once again forgotten Valentine’s Day, the anger from Valentine’s Day itself.
Men generally have more trouble with Valentine’s Day than women. Many of us just never quite grasp its importance to our significant other. What seems frivolous to us — some of us mutter that it’s a holiday concocted by the card, flower, and chocolate industries — may be of enormous importance to the ones we love.
Before her death, my wife on this holiday always dressed in a red sweater, bought candy hearts for the children, and helped them design and write out Valentine’s for their friends. From me, she expected roses, a special supper, and other treats. So there I was on several holidays, standing in that awful line at the grocery store and staring straight ahead with my roses and chocolates, feeling as if I’d been put into the stocks. “Look!” I could hear the women around me thinking. “Another idiot who forgot to buy his wife flowers!” The men in line never had these thoughts because they were too busy staring straight ahead and holding their roses and candies.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You can buy lots of great gifts for the one you love, but best of all is the gift that comes with forethought and meaning. Since this is a book column, let’s focus on ways to make your loved one feel special for Valentine’s with some literary ardor.
First, consider buying her a book of poetry. Both in bookstores and online you can find wonderful collections of poetry on romance and love. Here on my desk is A Book of Love Poetry, edited by Jon Stallworthy, nearly 400 pages of poetry of the heart ranging from the Song of Solomon to T.S. Eliot. If you purchase such a collection, flip through the book and find a poem or piece of writing that strikes you as special. Mark that passage — or even better, copy it out — and tell your beloved why it means to much to you.
Individual poems, copied out in your own hand, can mean the world to the one in your heart. Here are some poems you might consider:
• “Love in Brooklyn” — John Wakefield’s wonderful poem about the love between a manager and his secretary breaks my heart every time I read it. It’s a guy’s poem about love. As with the other selections, you’ll need to put a note with it explaining why it applies to your situation.
• “I Knew A Woman” — Here is one of my favorite poems of all time. If you know a woman like this one, as I have — a wild woman “who moved in circles, and those circles moved” — then Theodore Roethke’s masterpiece is for you. The joy here is infectious.
• “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love” — W. H. Auden may be more difficult to understand, but the individual lines on the beauty and the blessing of love — “Not a whisper, not a thought./Not a kiss nor look be lost” — deserve to be, as the poet writes, “watched by every human love.”
• “Love Is Not All” — Edna St. Vincent Millay once attracted throngs of fans at her readings. Today some regard her as a minor poet, but Millay left us some treasures that deserve to be polished up and restored to the culture. Here she writes that “Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,/Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;/Yet many a man is making friends with death/Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.”
• “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” — In this poem, E. E. Cummings, who wrote many other love poems, gives readers and lovers an incredible look at love and its enormous impact on the beloved. He writes “(i do not know what it is about you that closes/and opens; only something in me understands/the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
• “When You Are Old” — William Butler Yeats wrote this poem for all of us who have fallen in love with someone who either fled from us or who, because of circumstances, could not return our affections. “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,/And loved the sorrows of your changing face”: those lines say it all to those who have been blessed or cursed to love this way.
Not a poetry fan? Here are three more suggestions from literature (and there are hundreds): First, go online and copy out the letter from Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah Ballou just before he died at Bull Run in 1861. Second, though it is a Christmas story, O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a lovely tale of sacrifice and wisdom in love. Third, C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces is a masterpiece about the meaning of love. Lewis tells the story of Cupid and Psyche, and explores love from many angles. (I’m always astounded by how few people have read this book. It is a stunning examination of the ladder of love, belief, and devotion).
Finally, gentlemen, you should include a hand-written note with whatever gift you chose. In your own words, speak your affections. That’s what Valentine’s is all about. It’s really what your true love wants to hear.