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Language notes: Romance language

Love lines for a Valentine

While French is a romance language, this refers less to hearts and flowers than to its origins – the vulgar Latin adverb romanice means ‘written in the Roman vernacular’.

Long before literary giants such as Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine applied their elegant turn of phrase to love poems in the 19th century, France was a Valentine’s message pioneer: in 1415, after being captured at Agincourt, Charles, Duke of Orléans sat in his cell at the Tower of London and inked a letter of longing to his beloved wife. His wistful lament began: “Je suis desja d’amour tanné, Ma très douce Valentiné” (“I am already sick of love, My very sweet Valentine”).

Turning to more upbeat paeans to love, Victor Hugo memorably wrote: “La vie est une fleur dont l’amour est le miel” (“Life is a flower of which love is the honey.”)

Antoine de St-Exupéry, meanwhile, penned the excellent: “Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.” (“Love doesn’t mean gazing at each other, but looking, together, in the same direction”).

Novelist George Sand lent a woman’s perspective in A Letter to Lina Calamatta: “Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé.” (“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved”).

Slightly less starry-eyed, in every sense, is this from H de Vibraye: “Choisissez votre femme par l’oreille bien plus que par les yeux”. (“Choose your wife by ear and not by eye“).

As for your own romantic missive, try ending it with: A toi, pour toujours (“Forever yours“).

The last word, however, goes to Hugo. His poem Aimons toujours! Aimons encore! tells us to love always, and to let love endure.

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