Chaucer and Valentine’s Day

Tomorrow is the day you either love, dread, or a little of both. February 14th is Valentine’s Day and its earliest mention can be attributed to none other than Geoffrey Chaucer. For those of you unaware of Chaucer’s connection with Valentine’s Day, tomorrow may be a good day to read his poem Parlement of Foules. To distill the story, The appearance of Venus in the poem re-introduces the theme of Love, which is taken up again in the finale movement of the poem, when an assembly of birds comes to celebrate Valentine’s Day by choosing their mates” (p. 94 Dream Visions and Other Poems-Norton).

Specific lines in the poem introduce the customs and theme for the day:

For this was on Seynt Valentynes day/Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make/….(309-310)

In this line Chaucer attributes Saint Valentine’s day as the appointed day for the birds to choose their mates.

Bad every foul to take his owne place/As they were won alwey fro yeer to yere,/Seynt Valentynes day, to stonden there(320-322).

The above lines affirm the continuous choosing of mates from year to year that the birds will partake in.

Essentially, this Hallmark holiday is all Chaucer’s fault. What started with fouls moved on into the human world and there you have it!

There are mentions of Valentine’s Day in The Legend of Good Women, also by Chaucer, but it is the aforementioned lines in Parlement of Fouls that is most commonly associated as the origin of the holiday.

Happy Seynt Valentyne’s Day everyone!





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