When was the last time Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day, was followed by St Valentine's Day? I can't remember if it's happened before. It probably isn't a problem for pancake lovers–sweet or savoury, they're free to indulge themselves, but for sweethearts it could mean some difficult choices. That's because the day after Shrove Tuesday is also Ash Wednesday i.e. the first day of Lent. If your loved one is giving up chocolate, cake or alcohol, what are you going to give them to show how much they mean to you? You could say it with flowers, or you could try your hand at writing a love poem.
    Lovers have written verses to their beloved since time out of mind. During the age of chivalry it was almost obligatory for any gentleman to dedicate love poetry to some unattainable lady, and this continued to be part of courtly love until the end of the Renaissance. It follows that much love poetry was more concerned with style and cleverness than any real feeling, written only as a matter of form. Once chivalry gave way to a more modern outlook, writing love poetry began to loosen its hold and love letters became more popular. In letters, it's easier to be yourself.
    The best love poems are those that were written for a specific person and somehow contain the essence or an aspect of the relationship. Unfortunately, not many of us can write sonnets like Shakespeare, and with so much love poetry around it can seem impossible to say anything that isn't clichéd. It's all too easy to sound ridiculous, when you were aiming for romance. Perhaps that's why, traditionally, the only message on a Valentines' card should be BMV–Be My Valentine.
    If anyone out there is feeling downhearted, either because they have no one to send a Valentine to, or because they didn't receive any, take comfort from this: Valentines' cards can cause a whole lot of trouble! Remember Farmer Boldwood and Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd?