Rhiannon Ifans introduces her new book, Red Hearts and Roses? Welsh Valentine Songs and Poems.
Who was Saint Valentine, the saint who gave his name to the festival of lovers? Where do red hearts and roses fit in? Or do they? This volume is a lively introduction to a little known subject, the celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day in Wales, the one saint’s day in the Christian calendar of saints that does not depend on the Church for its celebration.
Several references to Saint Valentine in the context of the season of love appear in English and European literatures from the medieval period onwards. In the UK, the first reference to Saint Valentine’s Day as a special day for lovers is Chaucer’s dream-vision poem, ‘The Parliament of Fowls’, written sometime between 1372 and 1386, in which a conference convened on the feast of Saint Valentine is described, and at which each bird is invited to choose a mate.
Welsh poets and prose writers, however, make no mention of the subject until the seventeenth century. The book follows the development of the custom from that time to the present day and identifies a change in mood and meaning over the centuries – from the early sentimental poems, to the spiteful verses sent anonymously to the one who had disappointed a prospective lover during the year, to the competition submissions of the custom’s declining years.
The analysis is based on a rich collection of previously unpublished songs copied from manuscripts held at various libraries, and from personal collections. They are seen here for the first time in their original language, translated into English, and with musical notation. The volume also features unique photographs of a collection of six ornately printed Valentine cards dating from the second half of the nineteenth century.
Although it is the fifth-century Dwynwen who is today considered to be the patron saint of Welsh lovers, Saint Valentine too handed out aid and sympathy to Welsh lovers in Wales over many centuries.
Rhiannon Ifans is Dyson Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. She is General Secretary of the Welsh Folk Song Society, and editor of the annual journal Canu Gwerin / Folk Song.