Saint Valentine’s Day

Saint Valentine’s Day is observed on February 14th in Australia, and in many other parts of the world. It remains part of the official feast day calendar of the Anglican Communion, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox churches, although the Orthodox community celebrate it on July 6th. They also celebrate St Valentine’s Day on July 30th, but that day is for another St Valentine, who was a bishop of Intermna (now Terni).  Unfortunately it was also the day of of a bloody gangland massacre, accredited to Chicago’s Al Capone on February 14th 1929.  In the Australian culture, another sinister occurrence has come to be associated with Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900.  This is the date of the disappearance of several adolescent girls and there school mysterious in Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Peter Weir directed the 1975 film adaptation so successfully that the incidents depicted have entered popular Australian mythology, and belief in the factual nature these mysterious fictional events has come to be prevalent in the culture. A young man fell to his death at Hanging Rock on New Year’s Day 1901, but there have been no other recorded instances of deaths, disappearances or any serious skulduggery in that beautiful location, sacred to the Australian aboriginal people who were its traditional owners.

The Saint Valentine’s Day tradition began as the liturgical feast celebrating the early Christian Saint Valentinus, who was imprisoned for presiding over the weddings of soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for his ministry to the early Christians, whose were at that time banned from practicing their religion.  Legend has it that in prison he healed the sickness of a jailer’s daughter.  Just prior to his execution, the saint wrote the girl a final letter, signing it “from your Valentine.”

It was not, however, until the time of Geoffrey Chaucer that St Valentine’s Day came to be associated with the courtly tradition of romantic love, celebrated by the exchange of gifts and cards between lovers.

Valentine’s Day brings a particular poem to the mind of Erudite Scribe, one by the late Australian poet Gwen Harwood (1920-1995) with whose friendship I was privileged in the last few years of her life.  One of Gwen’s last books was Blessed City, a collection of her correspondence her platonic love, Thomas Riddell, during his service in World War II  But it is not these Valentine’s that are the substance of  ES’es thoughts when he remember Gwen. It is a poem first read in high school student when the Erudite Scribe was a student struggling to refuse the choice between investment in the sciences or the humanities. The poem Boundary Conditions, in itself such a refusal, and also a refusal of another dichotomy, that between lyric and narrative traditions, is written as a conversation between crusty old Professor Eisenbart and his young mistress, as they walk on the beach,

‘watching heat and light depart

from the boundaries of day.


“Sprung from love’s mysterious cor

soul and flesh,” the young girl said,

“restless on the narrow shore

between the unborn and the dead,

split from concord, and inherit

mankind’s old dichotomy:

mind and matter; flesh and spirit’

what has been and what will be’

desire that flares beyond our fate:

still in the heart more violence lies

than in the bomb. Who’ll calculate

that tough muscle’s bursting size?”


No doubt an empiricist, somewhere, this very moment, is ripping out the heart of a poet and heading off to grab a set of kitchen scales, in order to weigh in to this debate.  Follow this blog space in coming weeks for more on scientists, poets and other artists whose work remains as testimony to the great refusal.

from your Valentine

Erudite Scribe.

One Comment

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