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Valentine to Sherwood Anderson 

A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson               


The valentine was written in St.-Rémy, not for Valentine's Day, which is hardly the only occasion for a love poem. For Stein, the occasion was the publication of Geography and Plays in December 1922. She was indebted to Sherwood Anderson for the foreword, which added to her book a prominent name likely to make for sales and critical attention, as the publisher acknowledged. The "valentine" is an appreciation, an offering of thanks to Anderson. At the same time, most of the sections of the valentine are a love poem to Toklas, though she is not named. Without her inspiration and practical help neither Geography and Plays nor any other book could have been produced. She was the moving force behind Stein.

    The text and title of this piece went through changes. It is not known whether the sections were composed in the order in which they are printed, nor is the order or time of revisions of the title clear. Given the hints of Christmas and the late 1922 date of composition, the piece cannot have been written for Valentine's Day. The title "A Valentine," without a name, inscribes it to an unnamed recipient, plainly Toklas. Another title is Idem the Some. The piece later became "A Portrait of Sherwood Anderson," revised to A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson. Idem the Same appears in the form in which students memorize it, the Latin word followed immediately by its English translation, which makes the phrase redundant since it twice says what it means. But what is "the same" as what else is not stated. It may be one valentine written for or about two people, or two people who are both valentines of the writer. However, the valentine is a text inscribed to Anderson, with a subtext for or about Toklas, not named.

    On the back of the notebook for this piece are tiny private love verses to Toklas. Some become sections of the text. In the notes, details of "A Very Valentine" appear in more personal form than in typescript and in print. The original line "Very Stein is my valentine very Stein and very fine" becomes in print "Very mine is my valentine very mine and very fine." Stein and Toklas are each other's valentines, two lovers who are one, idem the same.

    The valentine has a pastoral, religious tone and a formal, processional feeling, with counting and lists of diverse detail in order of size, such as pervade much of Stein's writing in St.-Rémy. "A very little snail. / A medium sized turkey. / ... / A fair orange tree. /. . . / Listen to them from here." Alice Toklas said that as Stein wrote "A History Of Giving Bundles" she inserted into it, presumably at the hotel in St.- Rémy, the figures and gifts from a procession to the Christmas criche on the mantle. Never heavy and systematic, the poem plays lyrically and lightly, as if ringing changes or offering blessings to creatures, to nautre, and in words.


--Ulla Dydo

 (republished with the permission of UBUweb )