Roses and poems
Today marks the high point of the florists’, stationers’ and confectioners’ year, when millions of people around the world decide a box of chocolates, some dead angiosperms, an elaborate card and a plush toy are sufficient to express the complexities of human emotion.
(Yes, I am incredibly cynical about St Valentine’s Day, a cynicism born of 11 years of watching my wife’s birthday get spoiled by fatuous assumptions and pitying looks from waiters – no, I’m not too cheap to take my wife out on Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to have a lovely birthday meal with her the day before Valentine’s, so take your Cupid Menu and shove it thank you very much…)
Valentine’s Day is also one of the few days of the year when the masses get exposed to poetry on any scale. Poetry is much maligned as either “too hard” or “just rhymes”. I recall it as being universally loathed in high school when we were required to read any examples, yet it is no harder to read than literature (and frankly has the advantage of brevity).
The quality of poetry varies on “V-Day”. Sales of books with titles like “The Greatest Love Poems” peak. At least the poems contained within are recognised classics that have stood the test of time; well-written, by established masters, with good track records.
Then there is the Hallmark card – trite, following an A-B-A-B rhyming scheme and relying on the usual rhyming tropes. TV dinner poetry. It does the job, but with a lingering whiff of artificiality.
Lastly, there are the original poems, crafted by ardent lovers to the objects of their affection. Whilst poetry in books can be relied on to be good, and Valentine’s cards can be relied on to be, if not good, at least not bad, the original works of millions of first time poets veers from the undiscovered gem to the best forgotten about.
And it goes back to the fact poetry is not particularly well-received in the places that expose us to literature. At high school, poetry seems to be the “extra” topic that can be rushed through, or dropped altogether in favour of novels and plays; “real” literature, ignoring the fact that in terms of classical literature, poetry came first (think of epics like The Iliad, The Odyssey, Gilgamesh etc.)
So many assume that a few dashed-off lines will suffice, so long as they rhyme and don’t stray too far from the “Roses are red/Violets are blue” format.
This is not to say that this should be discouraged. From jotting down these simple little ditties, a few hardy souls may venture further into the world of meters and feet, of sonnets and ballads.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying that if moved to poetry, everyone should try, but not just on one day a year. A poem is for eternity, not just for Valentine’s Day.
Poems, like roses, should be read.