Valentine’s Day enthusiasts should give credit to English poet Geoffrey Chaucer according to The University of Western Australia, with the famous writer believed to be the first person to associate the day with romantic love.
Researcher Brid Phillips said the father of English Literature made the first connection between Valentine’s Day and starry-eyed love in his 1382 ‘dream vision’ poem The Parliament of Fowls.
“In this work the theme of love develops to include philosophical, political and social questions around its consequences,” Mrs Phillips said.
“The narrator of the poem confesses to be a student of love with little practical experience and seeks knowledge through reading classical texts.”
In the second half of the poem the narrator comes across a gathering of birds and writes:
For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take,
Of every species that men know, I say,
And then so huge a crowd did they make,
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place. (Lines 309-315)
“Chaucer chooses St. Valentine’s Day, 14 February, as a day when lovers pair up and the female may even get to choose her mate!,” Mrs Phillips said.
She said the theme of love was an evolving concept in the medieval era and the evolutionary tension is clearly visible in Chaucer’s work.
“In earlier literature, for example Beowulf or religious accounts of saints’ lives, the most important emotional bonds concern love and loyalty between retainers and their lords, or between saints and God and writers dwelt very little on the private sphere of love and relationships,” she said.
“However, during the twelfth century the literary tradition of courtly love, which began in the south of France, changed how writers talked about love.
“Love, in this period, is becoming complicated as now, through literature, the idea of desire as part of love was acknowledged whereas previously it had no place in heroic culture, religious culture, or in political alliances that motivated aristocratic pairings.
“Chaucer goes further and advocates the actuality of female agency and choice - he acknowledges new ways of expressing love, points out the tensions between courtly and corporeal love, and forges a new discussion on the gender and choice,” Mrs Phillips said.
Brid Phillips (UWA School of Humanities) (+61 8) 6488 2476
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716