Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy is an irregular poem with a direct tone. The language is very simple and gets straight to the point. The title suggests love as Valentines Day is a day to celebrate love on the 14th of February ‘Not a red rose or a satin heart, I give you an onion’, The reader is immediately taken back by the randomness and obscurity of this Valentine’s Day gift. An onion is a cooking ingredient, not at all something special or beautiful worth giving a lover as a special present. The first line is negative, this person’s lover will not receive a rose or a soft heart, they will get an onion.
There is a very big contrast here. The second line is very humorous, and not very romantic. An onion could represent a lot of things. An onion is very ordinary, a lot like a real relationship, with normal problems. The onion could symbolise that no relationship is red roses or satin hearts, but very run of the mill. I think that Carol Ann Duffy uses the onion to represent layers of love: ‘It is a moon wrapped in brown paper’ This line gives a disconcerting image, brown paper isn’t usually to do with love.
The moon is a symbol of love as it gives us images of romantic walks under the moonlight, this is very romantic. The second stanza shows the negative sides of love. The word ‘blind’ is very forceful making the reader feel slightly un easy. ‘It will’, this shows certainty. ‘Wobbling photo’, this gives an image of somebody looking in the mirror whilst crying, the tears in their eyes are making the reflection wobbly: ‘I am trying to be truthful. ‘ This line tells us that the speaker is telling it how it really is, and she is not exaggerating or lying, just being honest.
Not a cute card or a kissogram’, this line is used to get rid of all the cliches, so we aren’t talking about fake love, we are talking about real, ordinary love: ‘For as long as we are’ This sentence is used to show that not all relationships last forever, this line is very honest, it prepares us for the harsh reality. In the sixth stanza, Duffy uses the language of a wedding as she offers her onion gift: “I give you an onion” sounds like “I give you a ring”. She uses words like “faithful” and “for as long as we are” to refer to the length of time the relationship will last.
Duffy states that the taste and scent of an onion are like the passion of love. An onion is a good symbol for passion because its taste remains with you: “stay on your lips” An onion is not sweet like a “red rose” but it is savoury. Its taste lingers. When a relationship fails, bitter feelings remain so this is a good comparison with an onion. The taste of an onion remains on a persons lips but the memory of a kiss can stay with a person forever. ‘Take it’, is a very short sentence. It’s also an imperative; it’s a command, which makes us have no other option.
The speaker is obviously very assertive. The word ‘shrink’ is used in the next line, shrink is usually a negative word but here it’s used positively. I think the very last stanza is a message to the reader. The word lethal shows us that love is risky and dangerous; it’s never going to be all ‘lovey dovey’. ‘Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife’ This is showing that a dead relationship will always haunt you, it will always be in the back of your mind, you will never forget it. An onion has a sharp, distinctive taste and smell and once tasted, is never forgotten.
This is the same with a relationship that has ended; it could also refer to a passionate kiss. Knives are used to cut onions, and are capable of “causing” the wound that love makes-a broken heart. This stanza upsets your expectations of love. It stops you from thinking that there’s always a happy ending. It shows you that love can be perfect, but one unexpected day it will turn and leave a ‘scent’ on you. Maybe the writer wants the reader to feel that love can scar, it might not ever go away, just like Valentines Day.
I feel that Duffy manages to convey, what some would feel to be, a brutally honest opinion of love. Duffy uses images of conventional tokens of affection (e. g. a red rose, cute card, satin heart) ironically and contrasts this with an “onion” – a new unique symbol shows the honest representation of love. The poet compares the onion’s physical resemblance to a “moon” – another image which is associated with love and romance. Duffy tries to be “truthful”, admitting that love and the onion, will “blind you with tears like a lover” – “its fierce kiss will stay on your lips”.