So here we are again at hearts-and-flowers time. Seems to me that St. Valentine has a lot to answer for: the inflated cost of red roses, long queues at the Belgian chocolate shop, a general indulgence in appalling verse.
Though Val himself sports (according to my encyclopedia) no historical record whatsoever, he has been bothering people for a while now. Chaucer mentions him in the poem "The Parlement of Foules" - but only in connection with birds. I quote: "For this was on seynt Volantynys day/ Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."
The poor chap was writing as long ago as 1381, so his spelling was wobbly. It should therefore be pointed out that this snatch has nothing to do with birds making cheese, but rather with birds choosing a mate.
A glance at the annual crop of Valentine's Day cards reveals that while the mock-valentines grow yet more dysphemistic (the opposite of euphemistic), the sentimental ones are as pink, sugary, and Barbara Cartlandy as ever. It amazes me that the card people feel it necessary to name the recipient, when the tradition, senderwise, is anonymity: "'For my Dear Husband," "To my Girlfriend." It defeats the mischievous purpose.
Talking of which, I recommend that before anyone sends a misguided valentine, he or she should read Chapter 13 of Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd," which shows how impulsive pranks can sometimes get out of hand.
The mystery is, why did poor Farmer Boldwood, to whom the valentine was sent, take it so seriously when the verse in it was so typically corny?
"Here's a place for writing," said Bathsheba. "What shall I put?"
"Something of this sort, I should think," returned Liddy promptly:
The rose is red,
The violet blue,
And so are you.'
Admittedly, Bathsheba's intention at this point was to send her card, for mere fun, to a child. But then things - as they say - developed, and she not only dispatched it to the susceptible Boldwood, but added two words in the hot-wax seal: "MARRY ME."
Big mistake.... The bigger mistake, though, is in that doggerel with its triumph of rhyme over accuracy. Violets are not "blue." Blueness can veer toward green or purple; but true blue is instantly recognizable, and violets - which indeed come in a wide range of hues (white, cream, yellow, pink, deep purple) - are most characteristically the color their name suggests. They are violet.
THERE are several variations on the "roses are red, etc." theme, I note, mentioned in Iona and Peter Opie's "Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes." Two I particularly fancy. The first is from a New Yorker magazine of 1937, under "sidewalk rhymes": Roses are red, Violets are blue, I like pecans, Nuts to you."
And the second is from "Children's Rhymes" by Addison Crofton (1901): "The Rose is red, the Rose is white, The rose is in my garden, I would not part with my sweetheart, For tuppence ha'penny farden."
Nor me - so I'd better head off to Roots and Fruits, the premier flowershop in our fair city. I am persuaded (actually I asked her) that she wants flowers this year rather than chocolates. But I know that discrimination is still requisite; any old bunch of floral specimens won't do. I have long ago been made to understand that while freesias are lovable, chrysanthemums are despicable. Tulips are fine, carnations acceptable if rather predictable, but dahlias - if Roots and Fruits should be so foolhardy as to proffer a dahlia....
But I know anyway what I am ideally after. Let me say it in verse, as befits the day:
Violets in posies
Are too small to be nice-y
But, Dear Wife, even for you (who do the accounts) red roses
Are impossibly price-y.
So here is what I proposes:
One spectacular stem of the flower that everyone knowses
Is called the Bird of Paradise-y.
(This is a flower of which, as she not infrequently lets slip, my own particular "bryd" is quite amazingly fond.)