Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy is a freeverse poem written in the first person. The voice seems to be that of the poet, speaking to her lover. However, the poem is universal in that the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ characters featured could be of either sex.
On the surface, the poem is about the presentation of an unusual gift on St. Valentine's Day. However, the deeper level explores the love between two individuals. Valentine uses the onion as a strong central image and metaphor for love. This concept is then expanded on throughout the poem.
Duffy uses the poem’s form to reinforce its argument. She uses stand alone, punctuated lines to demonstrate why the speaker snubs traditional valentines presents. For example, the first line reads: "Not a red rose or a satin heart.” Duffy is implying that gifts such as these are over-used and have therefore lost any real meaning.
Duffy then goes on to justify her reasons for why the onion is an suitable symbol of love. She suggests that the moon, a traditional romantic symbol, is cloaked within the onion. Removing the outer layers hints at people undressing when they are about to make love. Another reason on the list is that the onion makes people cry, and is therefore like a lover.
Also, the onion creates a distorted reflection of anyone who looks at it. When discussing this element, Duffy uses the phrase “a wobbling photo of grief”. The stanza starting ‘its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,” is referring to an idea of faithfulness which correlates with that of the lovers.
The onion is made up of a succession of rings, each one decreasing in size until a ring the size of a wedding ring is discovered. This poem, like an old-fashioned Valentine, holds a marriage proposal.
There is also a suggestion of threat in the line, “lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.” Here, Duffy illustrates how the knife which has cut the onion is then stained with its smell; this seems to imply that the knife is prepared to punish any betrayal.
Duffy uses colloquial language in Valentine, for example "here” and “take it ". The line breaks denote pauses in speech: most of them have obvious punctuation as well. The breaks in between stanzas signify longer pauses. Some lines are alone in a stanza, for example “I am trying to be truthful.” Therefore Duffy has wanted a pause both before and after the line, making it especially poignant. In a poem, space gives readers time to think, and Valentine is a perfect example of the technique.
The poem appeals to several of the senses. Duffy uses the sense of sight by injecting images about light and visual reflections. An example of touch is “the fierce kiss,” and of smell is "scent clinging to your fingers and knife".
Duffy has used the nature of conventional Valentines Day as a starting point to the poem, then going on to demonstrate how the onion is a truer comparison to love. On first read, the poem seems funny: an onion as a Valentine’s present is comical. However, as the poem goes on the more serious issues of love become clear.