valentine by Carol Ann Duffy

  • Created by: daisymac
  • Created on: 05-11-17 11:47

context- Carol Ann Duffy

  • Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow on 23 December 1955 to a Scottish father and Irish mother. Raised Catholic, she spent her childhood in Staffordshire with her sister and four brothers. Her mother would often invent fairytales for her, a common theme in Duffy’s writing (which often explores and manipulates feminine archetypes).
  • Always an avid reader, Duffy recalls reading Alice in wonderland aged seven and writing a poem to continue the story as she was sad that it had ended. From an early age she knew she wanted to be a writer and found encouragement from an inspirational teacher at her convent school.#
  • She established her name with the collection standing female nde in 1985 and since then has become one of the nation’s best-known poets. Her poems have a wide appeal and frequently appear in ‘The Nation’s Favourite…’ collections as well as on the National Curriculum. Duffy is the author of many books for adults and children and is also an acclaimed playwright and editor. She was awarded an OBE in 1995, a CBE in 2001 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.
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context- Carol Ann Duffy

  • After being considered and passed over for the role under Tony Blair’s government, Duffy succeeded Andrew Motion as the UK’s twentieth Poet Laureate on 1 May 2009, and is the first womoan to hold the post.
  • Duffy writes in everyday language, which gives her poems an outward accessibility that hides the intricate technicalities and manipulation of language. Traditional poetic forms, such as the dramatic monologue and sonnet form, are often transformed into modern, contemporary poems. She is known for playing with words to explore the ways in which meaning and reality are constructed through language. She writes of life and is not afraid to tackle the sadness or suffering that accompanies it, exploring themes such as gender, contemporary culture, alienation and social inequality.
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form and tone

Valentine Form and Tone

  • This poem, is written in free verse with no rhyming pattern. In fact it has no rhyming whatsoever save for some repeated words.
  • The tone is unusual in so much as it is a love poem, but has an unsettling feel to it due to the way the poem uses an onion as a metaphor for love itself.Also , it is written in first person.
  • The short stanzas followed by longer stanzas and the mix of sentence lengths gives the poem a stuttering feel which just adds to the air of unease that the poem delivers. I think this device acts as a mirror for the ups and downs of a relationship. Duffy is renowned for using the form of the poetry to help emphasise the poems point and she does that here.
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stanza 1

Not a red rose of a satin heart.

 Negative adverb ‘not’ indicates rejection of traditional symbols of love

 It is  abrupt, signifying that the speaker is plain-speaking and not given to flowery language,  therefore, more sincere and realistic.

The only alliteration in the poem is in the "cute card" and the "red rose" – the clichéd Valentines. Duffy could be over use of alliteration in love poems.

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stanza 2 lines 2-3

I give you an onion.

it is moon wrapped in brown paper.

unromantic tone which is emphasised by the use of  the short sentence

this subverts the readers expectations

this finalises the statement which creates a focefull tone

The noun “moon” suggests that, since the moon controls the tides, it also controls emotions. Similar to how tides can be high and low, it could be referring to positive and negative emotions like a relationship going through its ups and downs.The moon is also white which could connote hope, light, innocence and virginity. The brightness of the moon could also be compared to a lover being blinded by love.

The moon is “wrapped in brown paper” like an onion is wrapped in its skin. This represents the callouses that people develop around love. A person is sweet on the inside but just like an onion, people have to be unwrapped before you can reach their true beauty on the inside.

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stanza 2 lines 4-5

It promises light

like the careful ********** of love

The line indicates that this will be an enriching and fulfilling relationship for both parties. This too conveys the optimism and hopefulness of lovers embarking on a new relationship.

 can be interpreted both as a reference to the sexual aspect of their relationship, and also the growth of their emotional bond which the peeling away of clothes and layers of personality may bring.

suggests tenderness, affection, warmth and sensitivity between the lovers as they gradually allow external barriers to come down and expose their true selves to each other.

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stanza 3 lines 6-8


It will blind you with tears

like a lover.

direct adress-The full stop and solitary stance emphasise the forceful presentation of the gift.

simile/ personification-conveying the idea that this relationship may occasionally cause pain and make you cry, just as getting too close to a chopped up onion can bring tears to your eyes.In this way, the speaker reminds us that the onion, just like a lover, can elicit pain and distress as well as love and passion.

declarative -creates a sense of inevitabilty proving love can and will be difficult

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stanza 3 line 9-10

It will make your reflection

a wobbling photo of grief.

declarative creates a sense of inevitabilty and certanty

metaphor-Imagery where we are looking ‘through’ the eyes of the upset lover who may be gazing at a their own reflection in the mirror and crying at the same time.

noun grief suggests extemes of emotion

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stanza 4

i am trying to be truthful.

The use of alliteration in “trying”, “to” and “truthful” does suggest that the poet is battling to maintain the open relationship they have with one another, as the moment they lose honesty the relationship will crumble.

 The word ‘truthful’ indicates that being honest, even if hurtful, is crucial in a relationship.

A single sentence stanza that stands on its own. Duffy underlines how she is trying telling the bitter truth half-way through the poem. A line conveying honesty.

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stanza 5

Not a cute card or kissogram.

The aliterative harsh c and k  sound create a sense of sarcasm as she doesnt see those gifts as truthful or honest

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stanza 6 lines 1-2

i give you an onion.

its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,

The line “I give you an onion” is repeated twice in the poem to give emphasis to the onion and its symbolic significance.

The word ‘fierce’ is significant, implying desperate love with a hint of violence.

 the lover is attempting to articulate not only the romantic, positive aspects of love but its more negative, darker associations.

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stanza 6 line 3-5

possesive and faithful

as we are,

for as long as we are.

 this hints at obsessive love and how this is turning into an unhealthy relationship. One of the partners is evidently suffering from this claustrophobic relationship.

enjambment-places importance on this line and suggests she has faith in their rlationship

The first use of “as we are” is in the context of a simile, but the second use of it is part of “as long as we are”, which gives it a context of time and impermanence, with a similar meaning to “for as long as we are together/alive”

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stanza 7 lines 1-3

take it.

its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,

if you like.

direct adress- creates a sense or urgency

Note Duffy selects ‘platinum’ rather than gold, the former being the most expensive metal, symbolising the high value she places on the relationship.

Here the poet is inferring that marriage requires an adjustment which may in fact restrict a person both physically as well as emotionally, warning others of the consequences of following conventions which can be destructive, diminutive and even unnecessary when compared to free romantic love.

The words ‘if you like’ are added to show that the relationship could go in this direction, but it is not necessary for the things that will inevitably follow. 

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stanza 7 lines 4-6


its scent will cling to your fngers ,

cling to yout knife.

Any marriage proposal is, essentially, lethal. When proposed to, no matter what the response is, the relationship will change. A proposal is pivotal. Refusal may mean the end of the relationship, acceptance may alter the ‘power balance’. The question is ‘lethal’ as those four words (“Will you marry me?”) change the relationship forever.

This shows the love .or the damage,will still be there whatever choice is made, just like the smell of an onion lingers. It may be a literal reference to the scent of another person, but also a symbolic reference that one is forever changed, for good or bad, by the experience of a relationship.The line is rhythmic with assonant vowels in ‘cling’ and ‘fingers’. The effect is to make this penultimate line memorable as a crucial one in the poem.

 The ‘knife’ suggests that love is dangerous. and can involve pain and even violence.

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