In his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats claims that the height of romantic passion occurs in the moment just before consummation. He congratulates the two lovers whose images are carved into the cold stone of a Grecian urn: they are about to kiss, lips hovering only barely apart, and they are frozen eternally in that ecstatic moment, "For ever warm and still to be enjoyed, For ever panting and for ever young." Their lips will never meet, but their beauty and passion will never abate.
I know that maturity brings deeper love and all that, but when it comes to cupid and his arrows, I’m with Keats: the most romantic of Valentine’s Days, for me, was the last one of the last century, the one that landed just a few weeks before now-husband and I dropped the pretense that we were just friends.
Hubby was a student in a neighbouring city at the time; every weekend he came home to the London area, showing up faithfully at any social event I was likely to attend. And then, during the week, we emailed. "Our email relationship is strangely thrilling," I wrote in my journal at the time. "I almost look forward to the days when he’s at school, because then we can engage in a flurry of email messages, most of them fun, silly, and loaded with double meanings. In person we tend to talk about serious subjects – books, theology, relationships – but online we banter about nail polish: I was telling him that I fear I’ve lost my edge – instead of relishing fierce, sexy, rebellious colours like Ink, I’m beginning to crave colours like coral, lilac and periwinkle. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked – ‘Girlification, that’s what,’ he responded, ‘and it may be past the treatable stage too.’ I love that."
Fittingly, then, it was by email that he threw out the casual invitation: he was staying at school over the weekend, planning to attend a Valentine’s Day poetry reading entitled "Wine, Writers, and Song." There would be chocolatey desserts, unconventional love stories, and readings by award-winning poets. Does that sound like anything I’d be interested in? Hmmm. Actually, yes it does.
I described the evening this way: "There was a vast array of desserts, including a few bowls of chocolate mousse decorated with chocolate hearts; I ate my sweets with a pink fork and sipped a glass of white wine that produced an instant flush of lust and happiness. I had worn my ‘velvat’ – a black top I got at the Gap, with a dramatic v-neck and fashionable three-quarter length sleeves. I sat at the end of the row with [now-husband] beside me and chatted amiably with his old roommate, who entertained us with stories of [now-husband]’s first-year capers – the best one involved him awakening everyone in the residence at seven a.m. one December morning by blasting Spanish Christmas carols on his stereo."
After the poetry reading we went to the Moody Blues Café, where I drank vanilla-flavoured tea and clutched my souvenir of the evening, White Stone: The Alice Poems, by Stephanie Bolster:
The collection is a sequence of poems elaborating on the life of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. My favourite poem, the one Bolster read for us that night, envisions Alice and Elvis together in heaven, playfully comparing their levels of fame: "he cites the Churches of Elvis, the Vegas tributes, while she mentions the Alice shop in Oxford, the Alice ride at Disneyland. … Both delight in their limited edition collector’s plates."
I read this poem to my children’s literature classes, my voice always breaking just a little as I get to the final lines:
She lays her head against his chest
during late night TV, murmurs of the man
who gave her fame, and he of the woman for whom
he won his. She wants to sway
to the beat of his heart in her ear, slow
as "Are You Lonesome Tonight." In sleep
their tear-blotched faces could be anyone’s.