This Valentine's Day, give her a compass.
It’s mid-February again, and we are all forced to deal with the oppression and anxiety of everyone’s favorite made-up holiday, Valentines Day.
If there’s one thing a student of literature hates, it’s a cliché. And Valentine’s Day is a national holiday devoted to cliches.
A dozen roses? Chocolate-dipped strawberries? Are you kidding me? Who could be flattered to receive a gift that millions of imagination-plauged men have bought for their wives and girlfriends?
You know what Valentine’s Day needs (other than total eradication)? A little bit of imagination. And, if you insist on acknowledging this dreadful concession to yet more consumerism, at least use your brain. Buy her a compass.
In 1611, John Donne was called to France on a diplomatic mission. His wife, who was staying behind in England, had terrible feelings that something tragic was going to happen to one or both of them while he was gone, and pleaded with him not to go. In the poem, he reassures her that nothing could possibly separate the two of them, since their souls were joined forever. And here is where he used the conceit of the compass, saying:
“If [our souls] be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two,
Thy soul the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begun.”
He is telling his wife that she is like the leg of the compass that stays fixed, at the center of the circle. As he travels away from her, she leans and “hearkens” after him; when he returns, she stands up straight again in anticipation.
If she wavered, or drifted, the circle would be lopsided, and he would not be able to end “where I begun.” But because she is steadfast, he returns at the starting point, and his circle—the symbol of perfection, with neither a beginning nor an end—is “just.”
Sure, buying your wife a compass is a stupid idea, but so is shilling out $100 for some stupid flowers. Any way you look at it, Valentine's Day sucks.