So we come to the ‘big day’ itself. The 14th of February, St Valentine’s Day and apparently the most romantic day of the year. Of course, for many it is nothing like that, by circumstance or choice. There is something rather uncomfortable (and occasionally nauseating) about seeing rows and rows of red cards of various design (and taste) in the shops as soon as Christmas cards are swept into the stock room once more.
However, the sentiment is a fine one and when I called for requests this year, asking my readers and friends on social media to suggest love poems for this short series, one stood out as distilling my feelings for my own Valentine – my lovely husband Peter. And it isn’t by John Keats (though I was sorely tempted of course!)
U (Ursula) A Fanthorpe was a British poet who died in 2009 and I have to admit that I didn’t know much about her poetry at all, until prompted by Jessamy Carlson (@rjc_archives ) on twitter. Her obituaries describe her as ‘a great role model for all of us who could do with a bit of ‘late flowering’ ‘ and I am determined to read more of her work in the future. I think this poem sums up that kind of love that, whilst ‘everyday’, is vital for the maintenance of another’s happiness and which inspires devotion, understanding and acceptance. I have a very ‘suspect edifice’ at times, and regularly require a metaphorical re-wiring and re-pointing. This is quite different from Donne, Auden or Yeats, but utterly believable and real.
UA Fanthorpe, from Safe as Houses (Peterloo Poets, 1995)
There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.
What do you think? Do you still find it romantic, as I do, despite the imagery being more practical than poetic?
Sadly, I could not find a reading on YouTube and there is no recording of Fanthorpe reading Atlas on The Poetry Archive, although she reads three other poems, including ‘Earthed’.
So this week of love poetry has been fun for me, and asking for requests took the pressure off a little as I struggled to sift through the many, many poetry books that fill my shelves. There were other poems suggested, including Because I liked you, a sombre piece by A E Houseman, How do I love thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, La Vita Nuova by Dante and a number of poems by Carol Ann Duffy, two of which were included on a companion post by the lovely Dad Poet. My thanks to everyone who got in touch.
So on Valentine’s Day love and be loved, or take heart in the thought that somewhere out there is the person for whom, one day, you can find a just the right poem. I hope the past few days, and my previous posts on poetry (just search in the box above or find ‘poetry’ in the word count to the right) have given you a few ideas.
Happy Valentine’s Day!