Robert Louis Stevenson

(1850-1894 / Edinburgh / Scotland)

A Valentine's Song


MOTLEY I count the only wear
That suits, in this mixed world, the truly wise,
Who boldly smile upon despair
And shake their bells in Grandam Grundy's eyes.
Singers should sing with such a goodly cheer
That the bare listening should make strong like wine,
At this unruly time of year,
The Feast of Valentine.

We do not now parade our "oughts"
And "shoulds" and motives and beliefs in God.
Their life lies all indoors; sad thoughts
Must keep the house, while gay thoughts go abroad,
Within we hold the wake for hopes deceased;
But in the public streets, in wind or sun,
Keep open, at the annual feast,
The puppet-booth of fun.

Our powers, perhaps, are small to please,
But even negro-songs and castanettes,
Old jokes and hackneyed repartees
Are more than the parade of vain regrets.
Let Jacques stand Wert(h)ering by the wounded deer -
We shall make merry, honest friends of mine,
At this unruly time of year,
The Feast of Valentine.

I know how, day by weary day,
Hope fades, love fades, a thousand pleasures fade.
I have not trudged in vain that way
On which life's daylight darkens, shade by shade.
And still, with hopes decreasing, griefs increased,
Still, with what wit I have shall I, for one,
Keep open, at the annual feast,
The puppet-booth of fun.

I care not if the wit be poor,
The old worn motley stained with rain and tears,
If but the courage still endure
That filled and strengthened hope in earlier years;
If still, with friends averted, fate severe,
A glad, untainted cheerfulness be mine
To greet the unruly time of year,
The Feast of Valentine.

Priest, I am none of thine, and see
In the perspective of still hopeful youth
That Truth shall triumph over thee -
Truth to one's self - I know no other truth.
I see strange days for thee and thine, O priest,
And how your doctrines, fallen one by one,
Shall furnish at the annual feast
The puppet-booth of fun.

Stand on your putrid ruins - stand,
White neck-clothed bigot, fixedly the same,
Cruel with all things but the hand,
Inquisitor in all things but the name.
Back, minister of Christ and source of fear -
We cherish freedom - back with thee and thine
From this unruly time of year,
The Feast of Valentine.

Blood thou mayest spare; but what of tears?
But what of riven households, broken faith -
Bywords that cling through all men's years
And drag them surely down to shame and death?
Stand back, O cruel man, O foe of youth,
And let such men as hearken not thy voice
Press freely up the road to truth,
The King's highway of choice.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Veteran Poet - 3,027 Points Douglas Scotney (1/14/2015 6:19:00 PM)

    You, restricted by your love of freedom, missed a fair bit of irreverence, John Richter.
    You got to 'Wert(h) ering', but did you laugh at that, and wonder why the brackets? (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,587 Points John Richter (1/14/2015 7:01:00 AM)

    I'm not a fan. It's probably not Stevenson's fault, but my own. I have little patience to listen to a thousand words when looking at the picture will suffice. This poem fails to create that picture. This is long winded and boring - and it's entire purpose to fill a form. Not only that but Scottish dialects and other language barriers make this an actual painful read for me personally. I couldn't get past the third stanza. A lesson to all - form robs emotion. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,094 Points * Sunprincess * (1/14/2014 8:58:00 PM)

    .......this poem still leaves me astonished...I like these lines..
    ~I know how, day by weary day,
    Hope fades, love fades, a thousand pleasures fade.
    I have not trudged in vain that way
    On which life's daylight darkens, shade by shade.
    And still, with hopes decreasing, griefs increased,
    Still, with what wit I have shall I, for one,
    Keep open, at the annual feast,
    The puppet-booth of fun.~ (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 39 Points Malini Kadir (1/14/2014 1:26:00 PM)

    I like the depth and comparison drawn here.....how he mocks in his style and adheres to form........ (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,094 Points * Sunprincess * (12/5/2013 2:44:00 PM)

    one of his best poems
    love these lines
    ~Press freely up the road to truth,
    The King's highway of choice~ (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,094 Points * Sunprincess * (10/5/2012 7:27:00 PM)

    A pagan holiday, please stand back oh priest..impressive write and thank you Robert Louis Stevenson. :) (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Pruchnicki (1/14/2010 5:40:00 PM)

    All hail, you modern pagans who misconstrue the origins of a Christian holy day based on an ancient pagan festival, Lupercalia! Read closely and see how cleverly Stevenson mocks those who see through a scanner darkly!

    The speaker (persona that the poet invents for the purpose) introduces himself as a clown in motley and bells who celebrates the pagan beliefs and practices of the god Lupercus who protected ancient Rome from ravaging wolf packs. He advises that despite the ravages of time, we persist in observing such a holiday. Youth springs eternal in his understanding of the one day in the Christian calendar set aside for the unruly rites of erotic love! After all, it is the King's highway of choice! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (1/14/2010 7:28:00 AM)

    To be truthful to oneself is important, but not the only truth. One may be truthful to oneself and a liar to others. This is a heavy poem for a Valentine's celebration. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 459 Points Ramesh T A (1/14/2010 1:17:00 AM)

    What is the use of praying inside the door when hope has faded and love too has faded? Let us be truthful to ourself first because truth certainly triumphs! Indeed freedom is outside, even if it be rustic like or songs of unrefined nature and in that state only love can really be celebrated on Valentine's time! Truly love can cherish and flourish only in freedom of the world around all! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Amy Sanford (1/14/2008 7:21:00 PM)

    this poem is so cool that is really all i can say! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! this poem go hard! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

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