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“Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy Essay

Carol Ann Duffy talks of an unorthodox love in her poem “Valentine”, where she compares love to an onion. The narrator finds that gift givers portray love incorrectly when she mentions typical Valentine’s Day gifts. The poem is an extended metaphor of love being an onion, and she thinks of love as a violent emotion rather than a peaceful one. The narrator compares love to an onion in her poem “Valentine” to show that her opinion of love is unconventional, violent, negative, enduring emotion through her use of extended metaphors and diction.

The narrator portrays that love resembles an onion through her use of metaphors which creates the feeling of love being an enduring, violent and depressing emotion. She begins the poem by saying that an onion is “a moon wrapped in brown paper” (Duffy 3). This metaphor compares the onion and the moon on both a physical and figurative state. The onion is visually similar to the moon and the brown paper is similar to the onion’s skin. The brown paper is not very appealing but the moon is beautiful, and these two objects contrast with each other to show that love should not be judged at first sight. The narrator then says, “It promises light” (Duffy 4) to compare an onion, the symbol of love, to the moon. Since the moon does not create light and just reflects it from the sun, the narrator meant that the moon cannot actually promise light, just like how love can have empty promises.

Next, she says, “It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief” (Duffy 7-10). The narrator compares how both an onion and a lover can induce crying, and the reflection created when crying appears “wobbling” (Duffy 10) because of the tears. She also says, “It’s fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful” (Duffy 14-15) to compare the long-lasting aftertaste and smell of an onion to the enduring emotions left by a lover’s kiss. The narrator’s metaphor of a kiss to the taste of an onion indicates that the love shared by the narrator and her lover is strong and pungent. She also mentions that, “It’s platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring” to show that when reaching the inside of an onion, her lover can find the essence of the bond they share in the form of a wedding ring.

The wedding ring metaphor is also a symbol for everlasting love, just like how marriage is an everlasting pact between two lovers. Finally, the narrator notes that the onion’s “scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife” (Duffy 22-23). The scent of the onion, or the feeling of love, is so strong that even after they are gone, the smell and the passion linger. The narrator uses these metaphors to prove that just because love can be a negative emotion, that doesn’t mean that the love shared between the two people isn’t persistent.

The narrator proves that love is a violent and everlasting emotion through her use of violent, negative and commanding diction and short phrases. Firstly, she begins the poem with the first word being “not” (Duffy 1) to infer a negative tone. This use of diction introduces the negative ambiance which the narrator uses throughout the rest of the poem. Next, the narrator uses the commanding phrase “Here” (Duffy 6) to build up this negative tone. After, she says that her lover will “blind” (Duffy 7) her with tears to demonstrate crying. The use of “blind” as violent diction indicates that their love is an intense, saddening love. The narrator reinforces the fact that love is an intense emotion when she uses the word “fierce” (Duffy 15) when referring to the lingering effects of her lover’s kiss.

She follows the word “fierce” with “possessive” (Duffy 16) to show that her lover’s kiss is so emotionally powerful that it makes her want to be with him forever. Her use of possessive diction proves that their love will be everlasting because she is urging to be together with him. Next, she continues to create a negative tone by using additional commanding phrases such as “Take it” (Duffy 19) when referring to giving him a wedding ring. This commanding tone indicates her perseverance to keep the bond strong with her lover because she implores that he must take the wedding ring. Subsequently, the narrator begins the final stanza with the word “lethal” (Duffy 21) when referring to the lingering effects of her lover’s kiss. Finally, the narrator ends the poem with the word “cling” as means of reinforcing the bond she wishes to have with her lover as she kisses him. The violent diction originates from the powerful emotions of love exhibited by the narrator as she kisses her lover.

The violent, possessive and enduring effects of love are all evident throughout the poem as the narrator uses metaphors and diction to display her opinions on an unconventional love. She also reinforces her idea of love through the structure of the poem. The free verse represents the instability of their love, and in conjunction with devotion of the narrator to her lover, their love proves to be very powerful as it can withstand the best and worst of times.


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