Carol Ann Duffy
Complete the spider diagram thinking
about the concept of Valentine's Day.
Write down as many words/phrases as
you can that sum the whole thing up!
Does this poem fulfil our
expectations of a poem titled
‘Valentine’? Why?
1. What are the things that are normally
associated with Valentine's day that Carol
Ann Duffy rejects? Why do you think she
rejects them?
2. Instead of these things, what object does
Carol Ann Duffy choose to represent love?
What is surprising about this?
3. List all of the words/phrases that seem out of
place in a Valentine poem. EG ‘tears’ ‘grief’
Why do you think that they are included?
What is the poem about?
• On the surface – it’s about the giving of an
unusual present for Valentine’s day.
• Really it’s an exploration of love and the nature
of relationships between two people.
• the clichéd ideas of love and expresses how her
speaker’s love is: original, clever, intense,
romantic, emotional, truthful, fierce.
• The poem is universal: it could be any lover to
any beloved as there is no indication of the sex
of either the “I” or the “you”.
How is the presentation of love
• The most important thing to mention and
refer to when discussing this poem is that
it is an EXTENDED METAPHOR; the poet
compares her love and the relationship to
an onion, this image is extended
throughout the whole poem drawing
similarities throughout.
How is the presentation of love
• The speaker of the poem offers her lover
an onion as a Valentine gift.
• She gives an onion because it represents
her love in many different ways.
• She continues through the poem
comparing different aspects of the onion to
different aspects of her love.
What is Duffy saying?
• Many layers which promise a joyful future. ‘it is
a moon wrapped in brown paper / It promises
• However Duffy also points out that true and
passionate love can be painful ‘blind you with
tears / like a lover’ she is really saying that she
offers her lover an onion because it is like her
love – it can cause pain and upset.
What is Duffy saying?
• comparisons between the rings of an onion and
a wedding ring. ‘platinum loops shrink to a
wedding-ring.’ This suggests that the longer the
relationship continues the more serious it will
become and perhaps will then lead to the
ultimate commitment of marriage.
• However there is also a suggestion that if
something ‘shrinks’ it becomes less valuable
and perhaps hints at the end of the relationship.
• The end of the poem is not as positive as the
opening when there is a suggestion of the end of
the relationship ‘cling to your knife’.
What is Duffy saying?
• She points out that a powerful love is very
difficult to forget and that just like the
lasting smell and taste of the pungent
onion a relationship will remain firmly in
the mind of the partners, perhaps even
long after it has ended.
‘its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
‘Its scent will cling to your fingers’
• The tone of the poem is genuine, confident
and intimate. However, seems to change
towards the end to a note of warning and
seems to admit some weakness.
• Duffy manages to make the poem sound
like a spoken voice, despite the fact that
she structures her poem around an
elaborate and imaginative extended
What does the tone of the poem
reveal about the poet’s attitude?
• The TONE is the way a speaker would say/read
the poem.
• The tone can reveal a great deal about the
speaker’s attitude towards the subject, in this
case Valentines and love.
• The tone is established through the language
and structure.
• The tone is DIRECT and SINCERE. The poet is
making a heartfelt declaration of love to her
lover, which begins in a POSITIVE manner but
develops a more SINISTER feel as the potential
failure of the relationship is considered.
What does the tone of the poem
reveal about the poet’s attitude?
• rejecting stereotypical Valentine’s presents
because they do not convey the true
strength of the relationship.
• Thus the poem has POWERFUL feeling
as the poet explains all the reasons that
the onion is a more appropriate gift.
• Creates sense of an intimate conversation by
using the pronouns “I” and “you”
• starting lines in the middle of a sentence as if a
conversation has been taking place before, for
example, the first line starts with “Not a red
• present tense as if this conversation is taking
place as we read it; “I give”, “I am”.
• She further uses the words “here” and “take” as
if she were handing something over to someone
who is present.
• 'I give you an onion' is a statement. It is
delivered in a matter-of-fact way. But after
all, an onion seems a fairly unromantic
symbol of love.
• uses commands.
• “Here” and “Take it” - the speaker is telling
her lover what to do. He/she is the one in
control. He/she doesn't even need to use
more than one or two words.
• The referral to physical love - 'the careful
undressing of love' - is tender, while 'its fierce
kiss' is more passionate.
• He/she says that too much commitment
and possessiveness can kill a relationship:
`'a wedding-ring if you like. Lethal.” Seems
a bit more sinister and shows how
relationships can fail.
How does Duffy use structure?
• The structure of a poem is the way in
which a poet chooses to set the poem out,
this includes rhyme schemes, rhythm
patterns, word or sentence patterns and
the way the lines are laid out.
How does Duffy use structure?
• Notice how Duffy structures these lines to
emphasise that she does not approve of these
types of gifts.
‘Not a red rose or satin heart.’ & ‘Not a cute
card or kissogram’
• In both cases the word ‘not’ is stressed because
it appears first in the line (notice it is also the
very first word of the poem!). Duffy adds impact
to her point by repeating the structure of the
lines, which is identical and also by having these
lines standing alone in the poem.
How does Duffy use structure?
• Also Duffy is making a very personal and
direct declaration of love. Duffy uses short
lines to emphasise the emotional plea; you
can almost hear the speaker’s voice as
they offer their gift of love in the lines
‘Here’. ‘Take it’, ‘I am trying to be
How does Duffy use structure?
• The whole poem is written in FREE
VERSE, which means that there is no
obvious rhyme scheme or rhythm. This is
an important choice because it echoes the
naturalness of speech and their
• Uses single isolated lines to show why she
rejects conventional Valentine gifts: “Not a
red rose or a satin heart...Not a cute card
or a kissogram.”
Why not?
Because each has long ceased to be
original and has been sent hundreds of
times to hundreds of lovers. This lover is
more special than all these others, and so
deserves something different.
• Duffy writes colloquially, so single words
or phrases work as sentences:
“Here...Take it...Lethal.” The ends of the
lines mark pauses, and most of them have
a punctuation mark to show this. The
stanza breaks mark longer pauses, and
allow specific lines to stand along, notably
“I am trying to be truthful”; this is a very
honest poem.
• The form of this poem is irregular in that
the lines are of varied length and the
rhymes come in unusual places, to stress
a particular word, such as “lethal”.
How does the language chosen
by the poet reflect the message
of the poem?
• Duffy is very careful to choose words and
phrases and images that express exactly
what she feels.
• (Remember that in poetry you should
always think about the deeper meanings
of words, the connotations (ideas
associated with them) and be looking for
examples of effective figurative language).
How does the language chosen
by the poet reflect the message
of the poem?
• The early part of the poem suggests the
positive aspects of the relationship. Think
about the words ‘promise’ and ‘light’,
words linked with good things. Also look at
how Duffy suggests the ‘undressing’ of
lovers through the image of removing the
outer layers of the onion.
How does the language chosen by
the poet reflect the message of the
• As the poem progresses there is more focus
on both the strength and power of the
relationship; ‘fierce’’ ‘possessive’ ‘faithful’ ,
yet also the pain and tears that it can bring;
‘’blind’ ‘tears’ ‘wobbling photo of grief’. At
the close of the poem Duffy’s choice of
language and image suggests that the intensity
of the lovers may well be too much for the
relationship, forcing an ending, Lethal’.
• Think about the last line ‘cling to your knife’,
this image suggests one partner cutting the
relationship and therefore ending it.
• Suggests that Duffy is criticising
conventional ideal and empty gestures of
love. She promises her lover, and the
reader, that her love is more original, more
honest and more true.
• Duffy turns a very ordinary object, the
onion, into an unusual symbol of love, and
makes it appear to be a much more
appropriate Valentine gift than many of the
more traditional ones.
• The traditional symbol of the moon is
concealed within the onion.
• The light which it promises may be both its
literal brightness (the onion is pale and
white under its brown skin) and a more
metaphorical meaning.
• The removal of the paper outer layers
suggests “undressing”.
• The onion is like a lover because it makes
one cry.
• The verb “blind” may also suggest the
traditional idea of love being blind, and
also the more negative association of one
being blinded by love.
• The onion reflects a distorted image of
anyone who looks at it, as a crying person
looking in the mirror would see a “wobbling
• The flavour of the onion is persistent, so
that this taste is like a kiss which lasts.
“possessive and faithful...for as long as we
• The onion is a series of rings, each smaller than
the other until one finds a ring the size of a
wedding ring – “platinum” because of the colour.
• Note the phrase “if you like” where the lover is
given a choice, or a proposal of marriage.
• There is, however, a vague threat in the
suggestion that the onion is lethal, as its scent
“cling[s] to your knife”.
• The poem appeals to the senses especially of
sight (striking visual images of light, shape and
colour), touch (the “fierce kiss”) and smell (the
“scent” clinging to “your fingers” and the “knife”).
• The poem seems at first to be rather comical
because of its unusual imagery, but, in fact,
becomes a very serious analysis of love.
In what ways is the onion like the
speaker’s love?
It is round like a moon
The moon is associated with
Its skin is white
It promises light – light is
associated with truth, faith, beauty
You peel an onion
Lovers undress each other
Causes tears
Causes tears
Its taste is strong and lasting
The speaker’s kiss is possessive
and fierce
Onions have rings
Relationships are often symbolised
by a ring
The smell of onions will stay with
So will this speaker’s love
The Onion V Love/Relationships
‘It is a moon wrapped in
brown paper.
It promises light.’
The ‘brown paper’ is the
outer skin of the onion,
the comparison also
supports the ideas of a
gift. The reference to the
‘moon’ is common in
romantic poetry, it
‘promises light’ like the
moon, and perhaps, like
the optimism at the
beginning of a new
The Onion V Love/Relationships
‘It will blind you with
like a lover.’
The Onion V Love/Relationships
‘It will make your
a wobbling photo of
The Onion V Love/Relationships
‘Its fierce kiss will stay
on your lips,
possessive and faithful.’
The Onion V Love/Relationships
‘Its platinum loops
shrink to a
if you like.’
The Onion V Love/Relationships
Its scent will cling to
your fingers,
Cling to your knife.’
Begins with a negative
Shows the deliberate decision to
reject more traditional gifts
Not a red rose or a
satin heart.
precise actions
first and second
I ofgive
an onion.
Short sentences
reflect deliberate,
makes the poem seem personal.
She is talking directly to her lover:
the recipient of the gift
Statement of fact
It is a moon wrapped in
brown paper.
It promises light
onion with
its careful
This is the first of a
brown outer skin
series of images
love. the onion
white flesh is
compared to a moon
to more conventional
symbols of love
It is a moon wrapped in
brown paper.
It promises light
of light
could be:
•romantic moonlight
•Light touches/gentleness
•Light hearted promises and behaviour at the
start of a relationship
It is a moon wrapped in
brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful
Peeling back the layers of an onion represents
getting to know aof
lover and also the
literal undressing before making love
It will blind you with
like a lover.
It will make your
One word sentence. Deliberately reaffirms the
of the onion.
a wobbling
of on the
behalf of the recipient/reader
It will blind you with
like a lover.
It will make your
the well-known ability of onions to make
people cry Duffy introduces a negative side to love.
of it causes
is an appropriate
gift because
tears just like a lover can
I am trying to be
Negative again
intention to
shows the rejection
provide what she
of conventional
sees as an
symbol of love
Again short statements show Duffy’s confidence
and belief in what she is saying
The lingering taste of an onion represents a lover’s kiss. Is
this a positive image?
Repetition reaffirms
her intention
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on
Alliteration of hissing
your lips,
sounds suggests the
sound of a kiss
possessive and faithful
as we are,
At odds with traditional romantic ideas –suggests the
relationship will not last forvever. Again Duffy is rejecting
conventional ideas in an attempt to be “truthful”
Short definite statement using
imperative. Almost a challenge for
the recipient/reader to accept the gift
and therefore accept/understand
Duffy’s unconventional view
Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a
wedding- ring, Onion rings represent
wedding rings. The
if you
way onion rings get
Suggests marriage is
“shrinking” one’s
progressively smaller
suggests the way
commitment is
gradually made.
Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a
wedding- ring,
if you Duffy
like.doesn’t need/totally agree with
the comparison –humouring the reader/recipient
by satisfying the need for traditional symbols
Is she suggesting that similarly marriage is a
concession to conventionality?
Stark, single word statement.
Negative view of love?
Suggestion that too much
commitment can be damaging
to love or the relationship?
Its scent will cling to
your fingers, Repetition
how difficult it is to
escape the smell and
cling to your knife.
therefore the
Its scent will cling to
your fingers,
to your
of this could
be seen as
positive. Love stays but the image of an onion
smell lingering is unpleasant and to end with the
word “knife” is disturbing.
Love/relationships can be damaged by being
too “clingy”?
Short statements suggest confidence and surety in
her opinions
The direct address using first and second person
make the poem conversational
The poem does not have a regular structure. This
reflects her unconventional views and suggests she
is also rejecting traditional forms of love poetry.
What is the tone of the poem? Mocking? Serious? A
What do you think Duffy’s message is?

Valentine - MissSEnglish