I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine

Liz Lochhead

I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine’ by Liz Lochhead is what would appear to be a series of criticisms in regard to methods of expressing affection on Valentine’s Day.

‘I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine’ by Liz Lochhead is what would appear to be a series of criticisms in regard to methods of expressing affection on Valentine’s Day in that she journeys through things she would seemingly not appreciate. A careful examination of the word choice, though, creates a playful atmosphere in the poem that is too dominant to overlook, and that amusement in presentation follows the poem nearly from start to finish. As the poem is so clouded in that bantering feel, the genuineness of most of her declarations is brought down to a running joke that concludes when she notes she would not provide a “thank you” for these gestures, but would instead “melt.” Essentially, Lochhead has created a four-stanza work of an almost satirical nature in that the informality and casualness reveal that her complaints are in jest—and that she would, in fact, appreciate gestures. I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine by Liz Lochhead

I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine Analysis

First Stanza

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.
I won’t wake up early wondering if the postman’s been.
I’d not bother to swither over who sent them!
I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.

This beginning stanza sets the bar for the rest of the poem in that it sounds like it is being stubborn or spiteful in regard to these typical gestures of love, like “red roses” and “satin hearts.” In fact, the first two lines are potentially the strongest statements regarding that idea since the speaker seems to set her standard without hesitation. No questions asked, the speaker tells a certain someone that the Valentine will not gain a “thank you,” nor will she lose sleep waiting on the “postman” to deliver the gift.

A deeper inspection into the vernacular occurring in the stanza, though, reveals a less sincere quality to the seemingly harsh attitude. Specifically, the speaker references a “stick sickly saccharine” quality connected to the “satin hearts,” and that almost comic imagery provides a humorous element to the verse. The very description of that “saccharine” uses alliteration and the rhyming of back-to-back syllables, both of which contribute a playful edge to the phrasing. By Line 3 of this poem then, the reader has encountered evidence that the aggressive tone is not sincere.

Further elements of this stanza, with that in mind, can take on a romantic connotation since the reader can assume the speaker is being playful. For instance, “I’d not bother to swither over who sent them,” while it could mean she does not care who sent them, can suddenly mean she does not wonder who sent them because she already knows. That understanding and knowledge adds solidity to the relationship in question and boosts the level of romanticism happening within the lines.

Still, as if she is striving toward a punch line, she ends the stanza with the repeated notion that a Valentine would not earn a “thank you.”

Second Stanza

Scrawl SWALK across the envelope
I’d just say ‘ Same Auld story
I canny be bothered deciphering it –
Take more than singing Telegrams, or pints of Chanel Five, or sweets,
To get me ordering oysters or ironing my black satin sheets.
I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.

This stanza takes the playful edge to a new level by bringing in grammar errors and confusing word choices that move the tone from a formal scolding to joking banter. This trait is particularly apparent in these two lines: “I canny be bothered deciphering it – I’m up to hear with Amore!” Using “canny” in place of “cannot” and “hear” instead of “here” shows that little effort is going into building a grammatically accurate portrayal of her feelings. Clearly, this takes the concept to an informal status since a person likely would not choose such word choices in a formal setting. Recall, after all, that none of these errors surface in the first stanza, hinting that these issues are not accidents on the part of someone who does not know how to tend to words. Rather, this seems to be a deliberate choice on the part of the narrator to build an amusing atmosphere.

From that line, the speaker dives into the “commercial” quality of the holiday, which could be viewed as a method of taking the argument of not giving a “thank you” to a societal level. If that were the case, bringing in this element of the topic would feel like solidifying her stance on not providing that “thank you” because she would be referring to a larger-scale concept as a solid rationalization for why she would not appreciate the gestures. As it stands, though, the playful edge has already been noted, so presenting the information is not to actually prove her point, but to jokingly support the ingenuine notion at work.

Her continued insistence that she will not “thank” the giver for the gestures increases in a playful tone as she declares in the same informal manner that it would “[t]ake more than singing Telegrams” to impress her. The wording is so casual that the reader could picture these words being uttered through smiling lips and with the speaker’s chin held high in fake haughtiness. The vision is joking, through and through, and even though she ends this stanza as well with the notion that the “thank you” is not coming, the bantering nature of the stanza assures that something other than negativity is approaching.

Third Stanza

If you sent me a solitaire and promises solemn,
Took out an ad in the Guardian Personal Column
I wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything, I’m glad I’m past it.
I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.

Once more, this stanza deals with the notion of getting Valentine’s presents in a manner that’s too informal to be a strong, sincere argument, particularly when the speaker describes the “ad” that was “soppy” by giving pet names and cute language for the possible message. The wording is so farfetched and informal that it builds the informal and ingenuine nature of this speaker’s complaints. This can be viewed from a basic perspective of logic in that if a person were sincerely scolding or warning someone about something, that scolder likely would not want to have the person being scolded smiling if the message was intended as a harsh criticism of methods. If the complaint were genuine and deep, it would reasonably be dealt with in a manner that is much sterner to get the point across.

However, the line after this “Fozzy bear” fiasco presents the first element of the poem’s phrasing that feels like it might be genuine since the speaker is no longer simply proclaiming that a “thank you” would not come or that more needs to be done to get her attention. Rather, she directly states she would “detest” the notion. It is possible that this is an actual line she is drawing in the scenario, and if such is the case, this action can be viewed as the baseline with which her significant other should work. All of the other things she has joked about, but since this one merits a specific comment of such a negative fashion, perhaps she is sneaking in a genuine guideline for her significant other to follow. If this is a valid hypothesis, the reader also has its own baseline because they can now see how the speaker handles details that truly merit a warning. Since this is the only concept that has been labeled as worthy of “detest,” the reader is free to assume that none of the other factors brought into the discussion are honest criticisms.

Once again, the speaker finishes with the declaration that the “thank you” is not happening, keeping that theme in mind as the reader awaits the punchline.

Fourth Stanza

If you sent me a single orchid, or a pair of Janet Reger’s
In a heart-shaped box and declared your Love Eternal
If you sent me a postcard with three Xs and told me how you felt
I wouldn’t thank you, I’d melt.

This stanza of ‘I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine’ finally delivers the anticipated punchline, that “[she]’d melt” instead of saying “thank you.” If that logic is applied to the poem as a whole, all of the things that are noted as not able to earn gratitude from her would, in truth, merit more than the “thank you.” She has never meant that she would not appreciate them—except perhaps the one she would “detest”—but that their effect on her would be much deeper than a simple “thank you.” Instead, she would be overcome and would “melt.”

The argument could be made that this notion of “melt[ing]” only applies to everything that follows the last declaration of what she would not appreciate. With that in mind, the only things that would cause her to “melt” would be the “plane,” the “flimsy” clothing, and the “postcard.” Given how many informal tactics are used earlier in the poem, though, this theory loses merit. Such effort has been made by the speaker to create that casual, playful environment, so it stands to reason that most of her earlier criticisms are not genuine.

Also, recall that the “thank you” that would never come has been consistently brought back to memory, so the sudden change of the notion has a structural connection to every stanza that came before it. Every time the speaker has declared she would not provide a “thank you” feels like it has led to this moment, making this an applicable detail to every stanza that has referenced that idea.

The overall atmosphere of the poem, then, is a playful delivery of what could be taken as an authentic criticism of “Valentine” elements, but that playfulness is the very reason that the reader can infer that the stanzas of criticism are a running joke that only runs its course when the reader comes to the concluding detail that the gestures would “melt” the speaker. With that declaration, the reader can now assume that the appreciation for most of the gestures would be deeper than a simple “thank you.”

About Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead is a 20th-century poet from Scotland who has also explored playwriting. Her experience in the artistic world is not limited to these pursuits, however, as she has also been involved with television and taught art. She currently lives in Glasgow and has been the recipient of several honors over her career, including becoming a Poet Laureate.

Connie Smith Poetry Expert
Connie L. Smith spends a decent amount of time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and might forever be sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. She has her BA from Northern Kentucky University in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either), and her MA in English and Creative Writing. In addition, she freelances as a blogger for topics like sewing and running, with a little baking, gift-giving, and gardening having occasionally been thrown in the topic list.

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