Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy

  • Created by: Claire42
  • Created on: 29-10-17 20:21

Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy


Valentine is from a collection of poems entitled Mean Time of 1993, and expresses love and affection in the form of a conceit whereby the symbol of love being offered by the persona is an unconventional onion. The poem challenges the stereotypical view of valentine’s gift as the speaker presents their lover with the metaphorical onion as ‘a moon wrapped in brown paper’. This is reminiscent of the metaphysical poets such as John Donne, who approached ordinary objects in original and surprising ways. The multi-layered complexity of the onion represents a real relationship and is used as an extended metaphor throughout. The strangeness of this unusual gift, which can make a lover cry, highlights the negative as well as positive effects of a deep and loving relationship. The forceful presentation of this gift and final word choice also suggests this is a relationship which is cruel, domineering and menacing.

Form and Structure

The poem is written in free verse using irregular stanzas to support the content and purpose of the poem; to reject traditional restrictive conventions such as marriage and other notions of love and warn lovers that being overly possessive can have fatal undesirable consequences.  While ostensibly a poem on the theme of love, Duffy deliberately avoids the use of language or imagery that we associate with this type of poetry.  Instead, the words are often stark and monosyllabic to allow her to present her ideas clearly and unambiguously.

 Summary and Analysis

Stanzas 1-2

The title itself, ‘Valentine’, initially suggests that this poem will deal with the fairly conventional notions of love with the connotations of flowers, hearts and romance which one associates with this word. However,  the traditional idea as suggested from the title is subverted from the very beginning in the opening line: ‘Not a red rose or a satin heart.’ and also in line 12: ‘not a cute card or a kissogram’   By inserting a negative at the opening of both these lines, the speaker is  effectively dismissing traditional symbols of love and instead presents an object that is much more truthfully representative of love.  In the repetition of the line ‘I give you an onion ‘in line 2 and againin line 13, the poet emphasises the importance that this gift be accepted by their lover.  The use of the imperative commands  “Here “(line 6) and ‘Take it ‘(line 18), further establishes  the forceful character of the speaker.

The gift, the metaphorical onion is described as “a moon wrapped in brown paper.” Thus although initially puzzling and unconventional, the allusion to the moon does remind us of more traditional notions of romance.  The “brown paper” refers both to the texture and colour of the outer layer of the onion as well as reminding us that real romantic gifts do not need to be embellished or concealed within expensive wrapping. The speaker is asserting then that the onion symbolises a positive aspect of love since it represents refreshing honesty and optimism, often


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