Valentine Poem: "One Day I Wrote Her Name" by Edmund Spenser

While working in Ireland and courting his second wife, Elizabeth Boyle, English poet Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) wrote a series of love sonnets called Amoretti.  The sonnets were apparently successful: the couple married in 1594 and the poems were published a year later. "One Day I Wrote Her Name" is #75 out of 97 or so.  It's a contemplation of love and mortality. Spenser's promise to immortalize his beloved through verse has also succeeded--400 years on we're still reading his lines about her, though her name is not mentioned in this particular sonnet.  The poem is remarkable for the power of its simplicity and the ease with which it fulfills the sonnet form.

Amoretti: Sonnet LXXV
by Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
but came the waves and washed it away:
again I wrote it with a second hand,
but came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay,
a mortal thing so to immortalize;
for I my self shall like to this decay,
and eke my name to be wiped out likewise.
Not so (quod I) let baser things devise
to die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
my verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
and in the heavens write your glorious  name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
our love shall live, and later life renew.


Valentine Poem: "The Sun Rising" by John Donne

Aubade is a fancy French word for poems about lovers driven apart by the dawn. Just in case you might not get it, John Donne (1572-1631) titles his exemplar "The Sun Rising."  And boy, does it rouse.  He rebukes the heck out of the big star, calling it old and foolish and commanding it elsewhere. Using the sun as his foil, Donne exalts love and the lover in his bed above everything else: nature, time, power, and riches. The poem's a wonderful celebration of bliss in sheets, when "Nothing else is."

The Sun Rising
by John Donne

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
  Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
  Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them in a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eye hath no blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
   Whether both th'Indias of spice and mine
   Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She's all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus.
  Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
  To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou are everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.


Valentine Poem: "A Birthday" by Christina Georgina Rossetti

A precocious poet and devout Anglican, Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) refused two suitors, apparently for their lack of religious compatibility. She composed "A Birthday" in 1857 and published it in 1861; no record exists to say if the inspiration was ethereal or mammal.  Interpret it as you like. Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group which promoted poetry and painting, and which included one of Rossetti's ultimately unsuccessful suitors, James Collins.  Dante illustrated Christina's first poetry publication, Goblin Market, a tale for children ripe with adult interpretations.  Rossetti was the model for her brother's inaugual Pre-Raphaelite painting of "The Girlhood of Mary Virgin." She was also painted by Collins during their temporary engagement.  As her health declined, she settled down to a quieter life with her mother. (Some 21st-century poems for mom available here.)

(Archaic vocab: "vair" is a variegated type of squirrel fur, popular as a trim for heraldic robes in the Middle Ages.)

A Birthday
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hand it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.


Valentine Poem: "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns

An immortal rose-and-love poem by the great Scottish bard, Robert Burns (1759-1796) whose 250th birthday inspired a riot of online celebration in his native land. Burns coined some acute expressions in his poems ("best-laid plans of mice and men," "man's inhumanity to man"), but this poem, written in 1794, endures not for its philosophy, but for its wave-crashing rhythm and brash declarations of love. It's over the top, but you feel that the poet meant it when he wrote it.  The images are cadged from a far less transporting traditional folk song, but as with "Auld Lang Syne," Burns' talent made doggerel delectable.  His robust stanzas shape the elements into lyrical avowals of passion. Seas going dry, rocks melting with the sun--who wouldn't want to be loved like that?  No wonder so many bonie lasses fell for him.

Surprising-yet-not-surprising cross-century conjunctions:  in 2003 Bob Dylan cited "A Red, Red Rose" when asked which lyric or verse had the greatest influence on his life.  Sometime in the 1820s Abraham Lincoln became a life-long fan.

Because I craved a Scottish accent for the audio version of the poem (see player below), I had to record off the telephone, so you'll have to imagine that the winds of the highlands are blowing behind Burns' bonie words of luve.

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like a melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.--

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my Dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.--

Till a' the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.--

And fare thee weel, my only Luve!
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

Listen (click green arrow on link below):

Valentine Poem For Mom: "Sonnets Are Full of Love" by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote this sonnet to dedicate her fourth volume of poems to her mother, with whom she lived until her mother died in 1886.  When A Pageant and Other Poems was published in 1881, the poet was 51 and the poet's mom was 80 ("fourscore years").  It's especially touching that 51 years of cohabitation did not erode Rossetti's daughterly devotion.

Sonnets Are Full of Love
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart's quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.


Valentine Poem: "Wild nights!--wild nights!" by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) led the life of a shut-in and wrote the life of a passionate sylph. Her poems are assertive and expansive, attuned to nature and ecstasy and death.  She first composed "Wild nights!--wild nights!" in Amherst, Mass. in 1861, shortly after a possible crush moved to the far coast.  Although Dickinson enclosed poems in her letters and handmade her own chapbooks, her poetry was not published until after her death.  This version of the poem is reprinted with the permission of the online text copyright owner, Ian Lancashire of the University of Toronto and General Editor of Representative Poetry Online.

Wild nights!--wild nights!
by Emily Dickinson

Wild nights!--wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port--
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden--
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor, tonight
In thee!

Online text copyright c. 2009, Ian Lancashire (the Department of English) and the University of Toronto.