The Valentimes are once again upon us. It is a holiday of thinly-veiled stalking, nude flying babies, and ubiquitous romantic poetry. The stalking and the nude babies are obviously fine, but something must be done about the poetry, because it is almost universally awful. People either try to write their own poems when they have no business doing any such thing ("Roses are red/ your lips are also red/ so let's go ahead/ and mess around in the janitor's closet") or they forget what day it is until far too late, and are forced to frantically select some poem at random to scribble onto a valentine, and it turns out to be about roast beef.
Well, as it turns out, you could do worse than send someone Gertrude Stein's introspective grocery list. Here are five poems that you might stumble across of you opened a poetry book to a random page. Despite appearances, they are less romantic than wrapping a dead rose around a brick and smashing your Valentine's windshield.
1.) John Donne's "The Indifferent"
"I can love both fair and brown,
Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays,
Her who loves loneness best, and her who masks and plays,
Her whom the country form'd, and whom the town.."
At First Glance: "I will love you regardless of your hair color or how mopey you get!"
Actual Meaning: "Listen, lady, I don't care if you're friggin' green. Take off your pants."
Explanation: Donne was notoriously weird. Fellow poet Dryden once complained that he "perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts," which is a 17th-century way of saying "Women are too dumb to understand your ramblings about how love is like a squid, John Donne! Just tell them they're pretty or leave them alone." Misogyny aside, this is a case of Donne being his usual clever self, in that he spends a poem berating some poor woman until she agrees to take off her pants. When he says things like "I can love her, and her, and you, and you,/ I can love any, so she be not true," replace "love" with your favorite sexy expletive, and you will see what he's getting at here.
Romantic Grade: D. It's pretty bad, but they're going to get worse.
2.) Richard Lovelace's "To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair"
"Do not then wind up that light
In ribands, and o’er-cloud in night;
Like the sun in’s early ray,
But shake your head and scatter day."
At First Glance: "Your hair is like the sun! Let your hair down! I love you for who you really are! Take off your paaaants"
Actual Meaning: Well, give Lovelace one more stanza and he adds: "We'll strip and cool our fire/ In cream below, in milk-baths higher/ And when all wells are drawn dry,/ I'll drink a tear out of thine eye."
Explanation: This poem starts with a vaguely romantic sentiment, along the same lines as "you don't even need makeup because you are so pretty!!" It then immediately spirals downward into the depravity of milk-baths, below-creams, and tear-drinking. As bad as John Donne was, at least he only wanted to mess around in the traditional sense, not to stand next to you going "NOM NOM NOM, DELICIOUS" and drinking your tears.
Romantic Grade: D-. We're not at the bottom of the barrel yet!
3.) Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee"
"We loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
At First Glance: "Even the angels envy our love!" might be the message you take away from this poem, assuming that you're rummaging around desperately to find some romantic poetry, and the only books in your car are The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and a pizza menu.
Actual Meaning: You'd have been better off with the pizza menu. This is technically a love poem, but it boils down to "I love you, my thirteen-year-old cousin! If only you were a zombie."
Explanation: Poe was great, in his own way, but his brain broke after he married his thirteen-year-old cousin and she died. He proceeded to write story after story after story (and on and on) that were basically Edgar Allan Poe fanfics about raven-haired cousins who die and occasionally come back to life as hot zombies. In this case, it doesn't even get that far; he just hangs out in her tomb all night.
Romantic Grade: Super F-. It would be more romantic to hand your valentine an actual biological heart and say "Guess where this is from??" before laughing manically and escaping down the hallway.
4.) Thomas Campion's "There Is A Garden In Her Face"
"There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav'nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow."
At First Glance: "Your face is like a fruit salad!"
Actual Meaning: That's pretty much it.
Explanation: Thomas Campion didn't do complex metaphors.
Romantic Grade: C-. The intention is nice—your eyes are as beautiful as turnips, and so forth—but it's impossible to communicate romance with the phrase "there is (any noun imaginable) in your face."
5.) F. W. Harvey's "Ducks"
"O ducks are beautiful things!
But ducks are comical things:-
As comical as you.
At First Glance: "You're... hot like a duck?"
Actual Meaning: ???
Explanation: This is a non-made-up poem, and was famous enough to be included in something called The Nation's Favourite Poems, where it appears alongside the likes of T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost.
Romantic Grade: ?????
What do you think is the worst V-day poem?