Valentine Analysis by Carol Ann Duffy

In this article, we are going to analyzing the poem Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy.

About the Poem:

This is a poem that does not meet our expectations after we've read the title. The word "Valentine" might make you think of quite traditional love poem. But actually, this is a poem that explores the reality of relationships rather than conventional ideas about love.

Throughout the poem the speaker rejects traditional symbols of love choosing instead to give her Valentine and onion as a gift.

The poem is written in an open form or free verse which means that it has no pattern in its structure or rhyme scheme. And so just as Duffy rejects traditional ideas or symbols of love. She also rejected conventional forms of love poems the poem.

Analysis of Valentine:

The poem opens with a negative, not a red rose or a satin heart and that emphasizes the speaker's strong aversion to conventional symbols of love. She immediately rejects the traditional gifts that you might get on Valentine's Day.

It's also very abrupt start it sounds almost as if this is in the middle of a conversation and which as to the sense of realism that we feel throughout the poem.

The second line 'I give you an onion' is very unromantic. It has a very matter-of-fact tone and that emphasised by the use of short sentences in these opening lines.

She then starts to describe the onion and explaining why she's giving it as a gift. So she says it is a moon wrapped in brown paper and here we actually start to see why she's giving this onion and what it symbolizes for her. The moon is something precious it's white which suggests purity. It's also enduring the moon is always there even when you can't see it.

And it's wrapped in brown paper so as the speaker gives reasons for giving this onion as a gift. She's saying that the onion is symbolizing something special concealed in something ordinary.

'It promises light like the careful undressing of love.' The light imagery here creates a very positive tone. Well, the idea of a promise could be a reference to commitment in a relationship. So the onion just as an onion has many layers has many different meanings and many different symbolism for her love. And that phrase 'the careful undressing of love' suggests tenderness and intimacy. So she's obviously giving this very very ordinary gift for very sentimental reasons.

The next stanza are opened with this very short line 'here' and the second person address which is something that's used throughout the poem creates a sense of intimacy. It's as if the speaker is talking to one particular person this is a private conversation between two people she is very clearly giving this gift to a particular person.

'It will blind you with tears like a lover.' She repeats these decorative it will blind you it will make your reflection creating a sense of inevitability or certainty. Suggesting here that love can and will be difficult although the previous stanza was much more positive focused on a light imagery and the positive parts relationship. Here we move on to a slight change in tone from the previous stanza.

The speaker deals with the reality of relationships suggesting that love is not always easy it will blind you with tears like a lover.

'It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief.' The imagery here conjures up the idea of someone looking into a mirror and crying their tears making their reflection 'wobbly'.

And that use of the noun 'grief' suggests great sadness. So we have extremes of emotion here in the previous stanza we had light the careful undressing of love it was very very intimate and personal and positive whereas here it's much more melancholic.

Then she gives reasons for having said these things 'I am trying to be truthful.' So she opens that single line stanza with that personal pronoun 'I' and similar to the use of the second person address the repeated use of the personal pronouns 'I' and 'we' emphasize the intimate tone of the poem.

These lines 'I am trying to be truthful' and 'Not a cute card or kissogram' are singled out. There single stanzas they're just one line on their own and that stresses their importance in the speaker here is emphasizing her reasons for giving the onion as a gift.

In this second line here again we've got a negative where she's rejecting those traditional gifts that you might get on Valentine's Day 'not a cute card or a kissogram'. And the repeated harsh consonant sounds they're a cute, card and kissogram create a sarcastic and scathing tone suggesting that she doesn't see those gifts as truthful or honest.

She then repeats that line 'I give you an onion' emphasizing the symbolic importance of the onion. And again gives further reasons for the importance of that gift.
'Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
 possessive and faithful
 as we are
 for as long as we are.'
The imagery here is passionate but it's also forceful suggesting that it's difficult to deny feelings of love. And here this line 'as we are' The enjoyment there places importance on that line suggesting that she has faith in their relationship.

And again we've got the repeated personal pronoun 'we' showing that this is all about these two people. It's a very very personal very intimate poem.

Again we've got another really short line here at the beginning of this stanza. 'Take it' It's an imperative commanding the addressee creating a sense of urgency.

'It's platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring' Now here again we have a slight change in tone despite the reference to marriage that verb 'shrink' suggests that a wedding ring can also be restrictive. So the loops of the onion here being compared to a wedding ring and yet she's suggesting actually perhaps that's not necessarily a positive thing.

But she's also saying 'It's platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring/ if you like'. Suggesting that the speaker wants her lover to allow the onion to represent whatever they wanted to. She's saying that it can represent many things.

Then again we have another change in tone hear. The word 'Letha' all on its own stressed as an important word suggesting that love can be permanently damaging.
'Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.'
So just in the same way that the smell of an onion will stay on your hands after you've touched it. And the speaker is suggesting here that feelings of love can last even when a relationship is over. It can, therefore, cause grief. And that's shown there through the repetition of that word 'cling' not necessarily a positive thing.


Now the final word of the whole poem is 'knife' which is quite surprising in this poem about love and relationships. So perhaps here the speaker is is suggesting that love is painful more often than it is pleasurable maybe it's a warning maybe she's just trying to be as realistic as possible.

There are lots of things to think about in this poem. Although she ends it on quite a negative tone with the use of the word 'knife' we've also got to remember that there are lots of positives in the poem. We've got the light imagery we've got the the precious idea of the onion as a moon we've got that line where she she shows us that she's trying to be truthful.

So to sum up really the poem "Valentine" is about giving readers a realistic picture of love rather than an idealistic one.


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