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Valentine Analysis

While the poem valentine is essentially a poem about love, it differs from the usual love poems due to its different take on love. The persona in this poem develops an almost cynical take on love and brings across her view of love by essentially comparing love to an onion. The poet creates a contradiction by contrasting the romantic sounding title with a negative in the opening line. The opening stanza consists simply of a single sentence, Not a red rose or a satin heart. This is a direct contrast to the title itself. When one thinks of Valentines Day, many would associate it with hearts and chocolate, however, the persona makes it clear that to her, that was not the case. This would hint to the readers that the poem was not a conventional one that deals with stereotypical views of love. Upon further examination, one realise that a red rose or a satin heart seems to be rather superficial stereotypes related to love. These items represent how dreamy and perfect love appears to be on the surface; however, the persona seems to be able to see past that glittering surface and instead recognises the real side to love. As a development of this idea of looking past the superficial surface of love, the persona offers her lover an onion. Once again, the choice of this unusual imagery strengthens the idea of how this poem contradicts the common perceptions of love, and it also challenges what many people would associate love with. The persona then goes on to describe the onion by using the metaphor It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. The poet may have chosen the moon for her imagery as it is a traditional symbol of love-sickness and melancholy. However, her approach seems to be far from love-struck and is much more down-to-earth - almost to the point of cynicism. The moon is ever-changing and it was very often referred to as the inconstant moon by many other writers such as Shakespeare in his famous play which ended as a tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. In the next line, the poet tells us that it promises light like the careful undressing of love. Here, the readers would be led to think that love was indeed something hopeful, like the guiding light in ones life. However, when referenced to the previous line, one would realise that the moon was wrapped in brown paper. This shows that while the moon could essentially bring light into our lives, it had been overshadowed by the wrapping paper, such that it could not shine as bright. Furthermore, the use of brown paper also seems to suggest something ordinary, something that one would not take notice of, which is a direct contrast to a shining moon hidden inside. This theme could also be applied to love. Although love could essentially bring happiness, it might be overpowered by the many problems or fights that could break out between lovers. Just like how one has to unwrap the brown paper in order to find the moon wrapped inside, one also has to overcome the problems associated with love and be truthful in order for love to bring them happiness. This idea of overcoming problems and accepting the reality of love, that it was not all sugary sweetness, is also emphasized in the last line of the stanza, where the author uses the simile like the careful undressing of love, suggesting that one has to slowly undress love to find its true colours instead of simply looking at its surface. Only when one has known and accepted the true colours of love and is no longer blinded by its glitzy veneer, can one find true happiness in love. Or, quite literally in the case of the moon metaphor, see the light. In the third stanza, the poet follows up on the idea of how love could bring one problems and grief as well when she says that the onion could blind you with tears like a lover. Just like the stings of the onion, love can also bring one sadness and tears. However, most people have the

perception that love is meant only to bring happiness and joy, therefore, using an onion that brings tears as a symbol of love is indeed unconventional, which again differentiates this poem form other love poems. The word blind could be interpreted on 2 levels. One the physical level, one could be literally blinded due to tears. However, on the emotional level, as the famous saying goes, love is blind; love can also cloud our judgements and make us unable to see clearly. Being blinded suggests not being able to see straight - usually when one is blinded from love, he does not see any faults in their lover and idealises them. Normally tears are reaction to extreme happiness or sadness and in love both are likely to occur at some point. This comparison makes the poem an unusual one, because when dealing with love we want to believe that it is perfect and it is likely that many lovers do not want to think of sadness or problems as often they are scared to face reality and the mortality of their relationship. This again ties in the previous stanza, where it is inferred that the persona thinks that love needs to be undress love instead of just looking at its surface. Through this stanza, the poet also manages to paint an image of tear-filled eyes through the lines It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. By referring to the stinging, burning properties of onions that is widely known and understood, it causes the readers to almost be able to feel the sting and experience the sensations. This reference to onions is not effective because it uses complicated words, but simply because it compares something that could be felt in our daily lives to something as profound as love, allowing the readers to better understand and connect with the poem. By the use of other words such as blind, tears, reflection and wobbling. sensations of trying to view images through water and blurriness are also evoked, helping to complete the imagery. In the next line, the persona hints at the fact that she realises that most lovers choose to ignore the imperfections of their relationship and hence justifies her own actions as being truthful which was in reality good for a relationship. In the next stanza, the poet describes the onion as having a Fierce kiss that will stay on your lips. At this point in the poem where the readers have established that the onion was a symbol of love, it would mean that this description of the onion applied to love as well. However, this again contradicts traditional ideals of love as fierce was not something meant to be associated with something as tender as love. Furthermore, the fact that it was paired with the word kiss makes it seems even more out of the place. The word fierce is a strong emotion and it suggests a sense of aggression. This could be compared with love as sometimes love could be so overbearing and all-encompassing that it takes total and aggressive control of ones emotions as well as judgements. The negative connation that comes with this word further enhances the poets viewpoint that love was far from perfect. In the last line if the stanza, there seems to be a kind of uncertainty in the personas voice when she says for as long as we are, as if she was unsure about how long their relationship could last, highlighting a lovers constant insecurities. In love, one can never be fully certain of the lovers feelings and this insecurity can only be broken by eternal commitment which is the wedding. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like. Here, the platinum loops refer to the rings of an onion. Although, a wedding ring is supposed to represent happiness and resolution, the fact that the onions loops shrinks to a wedding ring seems to have a reductive quality. Instead of a promise, the ring seems to also mean a sort of confinement. In the next line, the poet suggests insecurity by giving the lover an option as if

being unsure of ones feelings- if you like. This idea if insecurity ties in with the last sentence of the previous stanza. By voicing out this concern that many lovers harbour but are not willing to admit, it makes this poem a much more realistic one. The poet then chooses to close her poem by reminding readers of some of the more violent and dangerous associations of onions and therefore lover rows - of sharp knives, stained fingers, the scent and perseverance of a fierce kiss'. The first line of the last sentence sends a strong message especially because it only contains a single word- lethal. Although there is no descriptive language used, the poets message is short and powerful, much like the rest of the poem. The poet chooses to write in simple and plain language, which fits in well with the tone of the whole poem. The poem deals with the reality of love and hence, it is only appropriate that the writing itself had no flowery language to blur or conceal the truth. In conclusion, the poet has used powerful and unconventional imagery, an onion, to describe aptly her take on love. This combined with the direct yet powerful language serves to deliver her message clearly across to the readers, leaving a lasting impression.

Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy


Not a red rose or a satin heart. I give you an onion. It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful undressing of love. Here. It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. I am trying to be truthful. Not a cute card or a kissogram. I give you an onion. Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are. Take it. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like. Lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.