Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy has a unique way of expressing her love in an unconventional way through this profound work of poetry. She spurns traditional expressions of love in favor a nontraditional Valentine’s Day gift, claiming that it symbolized love in a much more realistic way than roses or heart shaped candies. This poem uses an everyday ordinary object, the onion, to represent her deepest feelings and most abstract thoughts. The juxtaposition of ordinary objects with her intense feelings serves to create the mood and tone of this particular work.


Valentine Analysis

Line 1

The speaker immediately reveals to the reader that she chooses to reject the traditional or expected valentine’s day gifts such as roses and heart shaped gifts. Traditional gifts suggest traditional love, but the speaker makes it clear from the start that her love is not traditional, and that a traditional gift will not do to represent her love.


Lines 2-5

Here, the speaker offers a gift that is entirely unconventional. She says that she is giving her lover an onion. She then offers an explanation for this gift. She clearly finds it more appropriate than roses or hearts. She claims that is is a moon wrapped in brown paper. Since the outer part of the onion does look like wrapping paper, the reader can imagine the speaker handing the onion to her lover, expecting her lover to open the gift. Here, the moon symbolizes love, and the speaker claims to be giving her lover the moon in the form of an onion. Lovers have often said they would give the moon if they could. Here, the speaker suggests that she has given the moon, but it turns out to be an onion.


Lines 6-10

Line six allows the reader to picture the speaker handing the onion to her lover. It appears that the one to whom she speaks is unwilling to accept the gift. Thus, the speaker says, “here” and tries once again to give the onion as a gift. She then goes on to explain, “It will blind you with tears”. She explains that this is yet another reason that the onion is an appropriate Valentine’s Day gift. She says that the onion will do the same thing that a lover will do, which is to blind one with tears and make one’s reflection blurry like “a wobbling photo of grief”. With line ten, the reader can grasp a deeper understanding of the speaker’s cynical feelings toward love. She clearly believes that love brings tears and grief. Thus, she feels the onion is an appropriate representation of love.


Line 11

Here, the speaker reveals her genuine feelings. She is not trying to be facetious or cutting simply for spite. Rather, she expresses her need to be truthful about love. She feels that offering an onion as a representation of her love is her way of making an honest gesture.


Line 12

Again, she scoffs at the idea of traditional Valentine’s Day gifts and clearly favors her choice of an onion to represent her own unconventional feelings toward love.


Line 13-17

Here, the speaker repeats that she is giving her lover an onion. She continues to explain why she thinks it an appropriate gift. She claims that it’s “fierce kiss” would “stay on [her lover’s] lips”. She reveals the depths of her negative feelings toward love. She believes the kiss of her lover has stayed on her lips like the smell of an onion. Rather than describing a kiss as something sweet and fragrant, she describes it as powerful and potent. Though the two lovers have been faithful, they have also been possessive. This, too, is like the smell of an onion. It lingers in the breath and on clothes and skin. The smell is not easily removed. This also represents the relationship of these two people. The words in this particular section make it difficult to conclude whether or not the speaker desires the relationship she is in. She calls it “faithful” and “possessive” in one line. This causes the reader to question the speaker’s feelings about her lover. At the end of this stanza, however, the speaker claims that the fragrance of the kiss, like the smell of an onion, will stay with them “for as long as [they] are”. This sounds very similar to the wedding vow, “till death do us part.” The speaker implies that no matter what happens between them, their love will linger for as long as they exist.


Line 18-20

In line eighteen, the reader can again picture the speaker’s lover as an unwilling recipient of this gift. She once again says, “take it”, revealing that her lover has not yet received her gift. The speaker then further explains the onion’s significance, claiming that the inner layers of the onion are small like wedding rings. She ends with the phrase “if you like” which makes the reader question the stance of the speaker’s lover. The speaker clearly seems unsure of her lover’s feelings. She suggests wedding rings, but is unsure if her lover would like that idea.


Lines 21-23

Line twenty-one reveals that the speaker believes that love is lethal to the human heart. She tells her lover that her love will stick to the fingers. This represents the idea that love is not easily washed away. The feelings will linger and stick. The final line of this poem can leave the reader somewhat puzzled. So far, the poem has been unconventional and somewhat cynical. It is not entirely clear whether the speaker desires to be in love with the one to whom she speaks. Here, she ends by telling the person that the scent of her love will “cling to [her lover’s] knife”. The knife, quite possibly, suggests a cutting off of the relationship. This seems to be a warning to the speaker’s audience that when one cuts off a relationship, the feelings of love linger still like the scent of an onion.

Want to read the first analysis?

This poem has been analysed separately by two members of our team, to provide to different interpretations from poetry experts.
Read the first analysis


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  • Avatar ican'tenglish says:

    really helpful, thankq!!!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      you’re more than welcome.

  • Avatar GamingXBoy says:

    Thank you for this analysis
    It will help me a lot for my poetry analysis skills in my examinations

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Hi there. Really glad that we will be a help to you.

  • Avatar Pavithra says:

    Thnx for this analysis ? it helped a lot

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for reading!

  • Avatar Brendan Norrish says:

    Lee mate, this analysis is rubbish lets be honest. I know you can do better, come on Lee.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your feedback. If there is an area you think that can be improved please be specific and I will attempt to rectify it for you.

      • Avatar Caius Swindlehurst says:

        Lee don’t worry it is great. I never understood this poem, but now it all makes perfect sense and I love the thorough detail. Whilst also being easy to understand. Because of you this went from being a poem I didn’t enjoy to being one of my favourites. Well done.

        • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

          Thank you for your feedback. It made my day!

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