Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

We at ITM wish all of our readers a happy Valentine's day -- the only holiday invented by Chaucer.


Dr. Virago said...

Don't forget to wish us Happy V-day again on May 3rd!

Karl Steel said...

Funny article, and it's nice to see one of us get some space in the corporate media. It does, however, have that quality that genealogies so often have (clarity at the beginning and end, a bit of the muddle in the middle where we get from Brutus to Burgundy &c). How did VD get from Chaucer to Genoa? Hm? I suppose I could crack Kelly's book.

This bit conjures fanciful thoughts:

"They probably didn't understand bird migration, and they probably thought all the birds hibernated," says Kelly.

Likely not, no! Probably thought they hatched from barnacles! Unless, that is, they were Frederick II. From the Art of Falconry (trans. and ed. Casey Wood and F. Marjorie Fyfe, Stanford 1943):

I.23F. "There is, also, a small species known as the barnacle goose, arrayed in motley plumage (it has certain parts white and in others black, circular markings), of whose nesting haunts we have no certain knowledge. There is, however, a curious popular tradition that they spring from dead trees. It is said that in the far north old ships are said to be found in whose rotting hulls a worm is born that develops into the barnacle goose. This goose hangs from the dead wood by its beak until it is old and strong enough to fly. We have made prolonged research into the origin and truth of this legend and even sent special en/voys to the North with orders to bring back specimens of those mythical timbers for our investigation. When we examined them we did observe shell-like formations clinging to the rotten wood, but these bore no resemblance to any avian body. We therefore doubt the truth of this legend in the absence of corroborating evidence. In our opinion this superstition arose from the fact that barnacle geese breed in such remote latitudes that men, in ignorance of their real nesting places, invented this explanation" (51-52).

Kelly goes on to explain:
So when the spring brought its sunny smile back to the earth, awakening the annual twitters of robins, blue jays and cardinals, it was easy to imagine the winged animals fluttering about and flirting with their lovers

But I find myself wishing that Chaucer had eschewed the martial allusion to the "waker goos" and had instead granted me one protracted scene of a fetal goose extracting itself from under a log to suggest that the predatory birds should cease their noise until they returned with candy hearts.

The hearts would, of course, be emblazoned with 'amor vincit omnia.'