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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A dose of cynicism for Valentine's Day

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.*
- H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) (Chrestomathy, Ch. 30)

Love. n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient
from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like
caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living
under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating
simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more
frequently to the physician than to the patient.
- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) (The Devil's Dictionary)

When love congeals
It soon reveals
The faint aroma of performing seals,
The double-crossing of a pair of heels -
I wish I were in love again!

The broken dates,
The endless waits,
The lovely loving and the hateful hates,
The conversation and the flying plates -
I wish I were in love again!
- Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) ("I Wish I Were in Love Again," from Babes in Arms)

Love conquers all things - except poverty and toothache.
- Mae West (1892-1980) (attributed)

Parrots, tortoises, and redwoods
Live a longer life than men do,
Men a longer life than dogs do,
Dogs a longer life than love does.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) ("Pretty Love I Must Outlive You")

Yes, today is the feast day of St. Valentine, Christian martyr of the 3rd century and the patron saint of lovers. By 100 years later, there were already two martyrs of that name commemorated on Rome's Via Flaminia, one a priest, another a bishop - perhaps the same man - for whom Pope Gelasius established "his" official observance in 496. More recently, it has been adduced that St. Valentine was executed for conducting weddings of Roman soldiers against the order of the emperor Claudius II (reigned 268-270), but in fact, this prohibition, decreed by Augustus, had already been repealed by Septimus Severus (reigned 193-211). In any event, the saint supposedly cured the blindness of the daughter of the judge that condemned him and sent her a letter signed "your Valentine," thus starting the tradition of Valentine greetings on this date. It is also attested by Chaucer, among others, that 14 February is the date on which the birds start to sing and choose their mates, lending further significance to the occasion. Be that as it may, one of my favorite observations in this context comes from American poet John Ciardi (1916-1986), who said,

"Love is the word we use to describe the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle aged, and the mutual dependence of the old.")

* N.B. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said something similar in the third act of Major Barbara:

"Like all young men, you greatly exaggerate the difference between one young woman and another."

In compensation, some old time hearts and flowers:

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