‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

This is one of my favourite poems by our Poet Laureate. I just love the image of an onion being like love, bright like “a moon”. And, like love, the beauty of the onion has to be unwrapped; it is wrapped in “brown paper”. We often have to peel away the layers of our own fears, prejudices or insecurities to see love. Like love, the onion will “blind you with tears” and cause grief. I love the image of the “fierce kiss” of the onion lingering on the lips — “possessive and faithful”, like a lover, and the image of the onion’s “platinum loops” shrinking to become a wedding ring. The scent of the onion will “cling to your fingers”, and “to your knife”. There is something dangerous about the onion here — it is “Lethal”.
As Duffy says in the poem, she is “trying to be truthful”. An onion and what it represents here is a more appropriate gift for a lover than a “cute card or a kissogram”. The representation of love in this poem is beautifully real. I really like the way the onion illustrates love as being at once beautiful, bright, enduring, painful, dangerous and sad… it’s great.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

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