Rosenblatt Essay: Hearts & Flowers

February 14, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROGER ROSENBLATT: (music in background) Valentine’s Day is for kids, I’ve concluded, for people so young that love is as uncomplicated a mash note passed in a classroom, or roses sent with hardly mysterious cards, “From a secret admirer,” “From one who loves you from afar,” bashful, blushing, promising. It is probably the way love was always meant to be.

What one dismisses on Valentine’s Day is dismal commercialization, the candy grams and the flowers, could be the best of it. Love distilled to the pure harmless essence of a thumping heart. Kids cannot take it any further. They may not wish to out of fear. A side long glance at the movies, a beautifully stupid stare in the hallways, a question that has no strings and its own secret heart does not seek an answer.

“Will you be my Valentine?” What happens in later life, as one learns, usually in distress, is that the more complicated love gets, the more real, the more adult, the less attractive it may become. It gets requited. That’s the trouble. Unrequited love may feel more painful but it has the advantage of that sweet, perpetual longing that elevates the enterprise. The best love songs are the ones that heave with hope. You are the promised breath of springtime. In the still of the night as I gazed from my window, ancient love was childlike in this way.

It did not always go unrequited but it was happiest and safest when it did. Romeo and Juliet would have panted on to ripe on to ripe old ages had they stood forever trembling on the brink. Troilus and Cressida, likewise. The medieval art of courtly love was based on what the French, who else, called “daunger,” the thrilling danger of two star-crossed yet forbidden lovers merely thinking of sweating between the sheets. Anticipation was all. Words were deeds.

ACTOR: You know how I feel. I’ve written two or three times a day telling you, sheets and sheets.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Of course there can be from time to time the unbearable tension that proceeds getting down to business.

ACTRESS: (singing) Words, words, I’m so sick of words.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Eliza Doolittle sings that to Freddie, who stands solidly in the tradition of the yapping, inactive lover.

ACTRESS: (singing) Don’t talk of stars, burning above. If you’re in love, show me.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Maybe this is a guy thing. Men are more childish than women. Generally, it’s what makes us so adorable. Even at moments of naked lust men have written poems instead of lunging. “Had we both world enough and time,” wrote Andrew Marvell to his coy mistress while killing time. “She was a phantom of delight,” exulted Wordsworth, clearly preferring the spirit to the flesh. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” asked Shakespeare. Yatta yatta yatta. Kid stuff, all of it. Yet, quite satisfying in its way.

When it comes down to it, we claim to be for the life of the body, but the life of the dream may have more to recommend it. Look at him. Look at her. Standing on some evergreen hill in an evergreen time, forever in the distance, perfect as the heart can wish. Will you love me as I love you? Will you be the most astonishing, remarkable creature that ever was? Will you freeze this moment of our connected, yet unconnected lives, in a tableau like the lovers on Keats’s Grecian Urn–they who touch by never touching. Will you be my Valentine?

I’m Roger Rosenblatt.