To Wit to Woo
In the history of courtship, no words have resonated more profoundly than two lines by that great poet, Ogden Nash:
Candy is dandy,
But liquor is quicker.
However, we must admit that, over the ages, many other techniques of wooing have been developed. For example, there are music and song, as celebrated by that other immortal poet, Edward Lear, in his tale of “The Owl and the Pussycat,” in which that couple elopes by sea, and the Owl serenades his beloved:
The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar:
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Note that he looked up to the stars – because celestial objects have always been an important element in wooing – particularly the Moon. In fact, the poem ends with the newly betrothed couple dancing “by the light of the Moon.” And how did they become betrothed? By the presentation of a ring (which they purchased from a “Piggy-wig,” who had it on the end of his nose). Which reminds us that jewelry, in many cultures, can be an essential in the wooing process – although it’s also sometimes disparaged, for example, in the song “Little Things Mean a Lot”:
Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls,
Champagne, sables and such –
I never cared much for diamonds and pearls,
Cause honestly honey, they just cost money.
But, getting back to the Moon, there’s something about moonlight which can stir the heart, particularly that of the female of the species, in a strongly romantic fashion. And what exactly does “romantic” mean? It hardly has any direct connection with the Ancient Romans – although one of the oldest surviving texts on techniques of courtship was written by an Ancient Roman poet named Ovid (“Ars Amatoria” – “The Art of Love”). [Incidentally, there is a song called “Moonlight Becomes You,” which always confused me as a child, because I didn’t know that “becomes” had more than one meaning.]
Flowers must also feature in any discussion of amorous endeavor. Of course, they tend to be involved in many other rites of passage, from baptisms to burials. But flowers are as notoriously the way to a woman’s heart as the way to a man’s heart is said to lie through his stomach.
Another vehicle for arousing female affections can be a vehicle itself. It was in “a beautiful pea-green boat” that the Owl stole away with his Pussy-Cat. And back in the “horse-and-buggy days,” the style of conveyance could be an important part of courtship, as we are reminded in the song from the musical Oklahoma!, about the “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” Its owner boasts, not only of the snow-white horses, but the leather dashboard, the rollable curtains, and the bright sidelights. Altogether: “Ain’t no finer rig I’m a-thinkin’,” – and bound to win the lady’s heart. (That same musical gave us other hints about wooing, in the song “People Will Say We’re in Love,” with the “warnings,” “Don’t please my folks too much,” and “Don’t laugh at my jokes too much.”)
But then came the bicycle, as celebrated in the song “Daisy, Daisy” whom the wooer assures us would “look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.”
Then the whole world changed with the coming of the automobile, which made possible a new kind of escape for young couples from all forms of conventional social control. There were of course, from the older generation, many expressions of disapproval, some even referring to this technological advance as “a house of ill-fame on wheels.”
The private airplane was in turn considered by some an ultra-romantic form of getaway, though this was poo-pooed in the song “I Get a Kick Out of You”:
I get no kick in a plane –
Flying up high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do.
And I suppose I can’t get through this piece without satisfying your curiosity about my own experience of wooing. For better or worse, I must tell you that I was never the wooer, only the wooed. It really happened only once. (A previous occasion, which didn’t last, involved a mutual falling in love.) The second “courtship” – which led to 51 years of marriage – was a matter of my being almost literally pursued. I objected to the whole idea of legal marriage. But this person had made herself almost indispensable to me – so what could I do?