Love to Love

A lacy 19th century Valentine—notice the love birds. How sweet!

Good morrow! ’tis Saint Valentine’s Day

All in the morning betime.

And I a maid at your window

To be your Valentine

So sang Ophelia, back in Shakespeare‘s day, when everyone believed that the first person you saw on Valentine’s Day would become your truest love.

In Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, I delve into the love notes penned by Catherine the Great, and into the history of amorini and putti, who flutter about quite a bit at this time of year. What I learned just today, however, is the reason that old fashioned valentines are so full of images of birds: It was thought that Valentine’s Day, at the beginning of the annual spring migration, was the day on which returning birds chose their mates.

During the 15th century the poor old Duke d’Orleans wrote about the phenomenon in a Valentine verse he composed for his wife, Dorinda, while jailed in the Tower of London:

Look how, my dear, the feather’d kind

By mutual carresses joyn’d

Bill and seem to teach us two

what we to love and custom owe.

Ah, love. Happy Valentine’s Day!