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February 14th, Valentine’s Day, is almost worldwide, considered to be a day of romance; the day to celebrate your special Valentine, as if you wouldn’t do so everyday! It finds its origin in either the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, kind of spring cleansing ritual for health and fertility, or named after a Christian martyr in the 5th century, who secretly wedded couples in the time when it was forbidden in order to keep young men free for soldiers duty. In any case, it is a nice opportunity to exchange cards, flowers, chocolate, poems, gifts or to go out to the movies, restaurants… all surrounded by hearts!
It was first celebrated in France at the end of XIVth century on Prince Charles I d’Orléans’s (1394-1465) initiative. He is actually quite famous for the poems he wrote, while being a prisoner in Great Britain, following Azincourt’s French disaster (1415). One of the poems mentions Valentine’s Day: “Le beau souleil, le jour saint Valentin…”. Coud he have heard about the English tradition which believes that birds started to look for their mates on February 14th? Hence Valentine’s Day’s association with birds, and especially doves.
There are not many other references of Valentine’s Day celebrations to be found in France until the 1950s, when it gradually became a commercial opportunity. In fact, after WW2 everything coming from America was very popular. Since then, passion for that celebration hasn’t stop increasing to the point that nowadays the florists make 10% of their yearly income on February 14th!
Did you know that in French countryside there is a village called St Valentin? There you can celebrate there your special day with your loved one all year round!
Books are full of love stories and passionate lovers from Heloise and Abelard, Tristan and Isolde and so on. Some of the most famous writers and poets also celebrated their own passionate and tumultuous love stories. In romantic 19th century, writer George Sand (1804-1876) and poet Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) were this iconic and charismatic couple whose story is pictured in Diane Kurys ‘s movie, Les Enfants du Siècle (named in reference to Musset’s autobiographic novel, La Confession d’un enfant du siècle. George Sand also published her own version of their story in her Elle et Lui.) By the way, Georges Sand also had a love story with compositor Frédéric Chopin, to be watched in Andrzej Zulawski’s movie La Note bleue (1991) sublimed by Chopin’s music.
Anyway, a poem is always a very nice present, whether one writes it himself or not. “Se voir le plus possible” by Musset is a beautiful one for Valentine’s Day. It was published in his Poésies nouvelles (1850), and gives a point of view of what ideal love – so far from Musset’s own experience – could be:
Se voir le plus possible et s’aimer seulement,
Sans ruse et sans détours, sans honte ni mensonge,
Sans qu’un désir nous trompe, ou qu’un remords nous ronge,
Vivre à deux et donner son cœur à tout moment ;
Respecter sa pensée aussi loin qu’on y plonge,
Faire de son amour un jour au lieu d’un songe,
Et dans cette clarté respirer librement –
Ainsi respirait Laure et chantait son amant.
Vous dont chaque pas touche à la grâce suprême,
C’est vous, la tête en fleurs, qu’on croirait sans souci,
C’est vous qui me disiez qu’il faut aimer ainsi.
Et c’est moi, vieil enfant du doute et du blasphème,
Qui vous écoute, et pense, et vous réponds ceci :
Oui, l’on vit autrement, mais c’est ainsi qu’on aime.
Using the specific form of Sonnet (2 quatrains, 2 tercets) is not an innocent act for a poem dealing with love: it refers to poets such as Marot, Ronsard, Du Bellay and of course the italians Dante and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) whom Musset honnors in vers 9: “Ainsi respirait Laure et chantait son amant”. In his Canzoniere, Petrarca celebrates Laura, and their love, in way that his poems travelled through all Europe and became a model for all poets. Concerning the rimes scheme, Musset uses the French one (abba – abba – ccd – ede) in opposition to the italian one ( abba – abba – ccd – eed). Doing so, Musset writes his poems according to the italian tradition (refereing to Laura), as well as to the French one (rime scheeme), and gives himself, as a poet, a place in poetry history next to the most famous ones.