Red roses. Chocolates. Paper hearts. All of these things are usually linked to Valentine’s Day, and love in general. Metaphysical poets used to compare their love to such things, in order to charm women. It was known as using a “conceit”, often used in a very insincere way. The Metaphysicals intentions were not always honourable and were often exaggerated, and often used hyperboles by using conceits. The poems I am comparing do not show the good side of love, nor were they written in order to charm anybody.
These poems mock Valentine’s Day, and in Duffy’s case, love in general. Both poets are against Valentine’s Day, but Duffy seems to be more extreme in her hatred towards love. Both poems have similarities as well as differences. Both poets are female, which is unconventional because love poems are often written by male admirers to woo or compliment a female. Both poets are Scottish 20th Century feminists. Both of the poems are deliberately unconventional, in form as well as content, to break away from the traditional view of a love poem that has been created by Valentine’s Day.
When we consider “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy we notice is that it’s not set out in a regular style of a traditional love poem that somebody like Shakespeare would have written. Duffy’s poem uses a free verse style which reflects her personality. Duffy herself is a feminist who views herself as a woman living in a male-dominated world – and in a blatant act of defiance – she refuses to follow the trends that have been set by traditional poetry, in an effort not to be viewed as just another twentieth century poet. As I mentioned earlier, it seems that Duffy herself is set against love.
Upon doing further research into Carol Ann Duffy’s personal life, I have discovered that while she was born in Glasgow, she moved to Staffordshire when she was four years old. This information tells us why Duffy’s Scottish heritage doesn’t really show through in her poetry, it’s because she moved away at such a young age, and it’s quite unlikely that she grasped some of the traditions that the Scottish tend to have. Also, her profound dislike of men, and conversion to feminism may have begun at the age of sixteen, when she embarked on an affair with thirty-nine year old poet, Adrian Henri.
He repeatedly cheated on her, and merely used his gift of poetry to make things up to her. Duffy has a twelve year old daughter named Ella, who is the product of an affair with writer Peter Benson in 1995. Duffy wrote “Valentine” in 1992, so she still had strong feminist views before this affair. Duffy broke up in 2004 with her long-time lesbian partner and fellow poet Jackie Kay. Duffy has stated herself that, “I’m not a lesbian poet, whatever that is. If I am a lesbian icon and a role model, that’s great, but if it is a word that is used to reduce me, then you have to ask why someone would want to reduce me?
I never think about it. I don’t care about it. I define myself as a poet and as a mother – that’s all. ” The voice in this poem appears to be a couple on Valentine’s Day, with the female doing the speaking. A lot of the tone throughout the poem is blunt and hard-hitting, things you wouldn’t expect in a love poem like words such as “lethal”, “knife” and “fierce”. From top to bottom, the poem is unconventional. The stanza, structure, rhyme and rhythm are all irregular. Interestingly, the poem looks as though it could be split into two halves.
Duffy uses literary devices throughout the poems, such as metaphors, emphasis, oxymorons etc. These literary devices have a profound effect on the poem, displaying love in a negative light. But one of the main features of the poem is the conceit that Duffy uses. I touched on this earlier, when I mentioned that Metaphysical poets used conceits to display affection towards women, mainly in order to charm them. Duffy uses a conceit in this poem, but in a completely different fashion. Duffy compares her love to an onion. Throughout the entire poem, she backs her case, comparing the onion to “a moon wrapped in brown paper” etc.
While that quote may been seen as odd or in some cases, romantic in a very unique way but mainly, they seem to be positive. Duffy also uses some comparisons that are very shocking to see in a love poem. Very negative things like “its fierce kiss will stay on your lips” and “it will blind you with tears”. The conceit is used overall to subvert the tradition of love. In doing this, Duffy is not only showing the flaws she sees in Valentine’s Day, she also seems to be wanting to modernise the symbols that we use for love, the tradition that Valentine’s Day seems to have created.
The very same tradition that Carol Ann Duffy is against and she displays it in this poem. The opening line reads “Not a red rose or a satin heart”. From the very beginning of the poem, it starts out negatively, using the word “not”. This negativity is then carried throughout the poem. Red roses and satin hearts are traditional symbols of love that may be given to one another at Valentine’s Day, or as romantic gifts. However, Duffy seems to be mocking these values that most people have of love and implying that they have no true meaning, or likeness to what love is about in her mind. As the old expression goes, “Beauty is only skin deep”.
The following line says, “I give you an onion”. This line has a very blunt, truthful tone to it. It confirms her honest approach, and that she’s being deadly serious about giving her partner an onion. The next three lines say “It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful undressing of love”. Duffy is explaining how an onion works as a love gift. The brown skin is the wrapping paper of the gift, the onion. She then compares her gift to the moon, and the white skin of the onion represents light. Moonlight often provides a romantic setting, so Duffy could have been using this metaphor to represent love.
Duffy uses this metaphor in a way that says love isn’t always what you expect when you take away the outside layers, and get to know the person’s personality a little better, once you peel away the layers. This metaphor questions what love itself is all about. Questions whether or not love really will give you happiness. Duffy is using the onion as a symbol of her love, representing the tougher side of love, the truth about love. Therefore, this poem isn’t about Valentine’s Day. This poem takes a deep look at love. It looks at what love is made up of. The next stanza reads, “Here. It will blind you with tears like a lover.
It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. ” Duffy is using imagery here, with her handing the onion over to her significant other and saying “Here” as an imperative command. When we peel onions, our eyes tend to water, with the scent that the onion gives out. In the same way, in a relationship, tears tend to be shed and grief is given when pain is caused by a loved one. Duffy is using emotive language to drive her point across. The next two stanzas are unusual because they are both single line stanzas. It is here, after the third stanza that the poem could be split into two.
The first of these single lined stanzas read “I am trying to be truthful”. By using a one lined stanza, Duffy uses emphasis. She also states the purpose of her unusual gift. The second single lined stanza reads, “Not a cute card or a kissogram”. As we saw earlier, Duffy rejects the traditional gifts commonly given on Valentine’s Day. She doesn’t approve of commercial tokens of love and once again we see emphasis being used from the first line in the poem. The sixth stanza reads, “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. “I give you an onion” is repeated from the first line for even further emphasis. It also seems to me that it sounds like “I give you this ring” which is commonly used at weddings, the highest form of love you can possibly show to another person. Duffy uses words like “faithful” and “for as long as we are” to refer to the length of time their relationship will last. “Fierce kiss” is used as an oxymoron, and “fierce” is a word you wouldn’t usually associate with love poems. “Will stay on your lips” is a very good line because it symbolizes that when a relationship ends, bitter feelings remain.
The comparison with an onion works well. After eating an onion, the taste remains in your mouth. And a kiss can remain in a person’s mind forever. The final stanza goes “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. ” Duffy is now demanding that her partner take the gift, “Take it”. She then compares the onion to a wedding ring, as the loops shrink to the size of the wedding ring, although she quickly adds, “if you like”. It also suggests that marriage constricts you, as a finger would probably not fit into one of the tiny onion loops.
Finally, it’s unconventional because usually it’s the man asking the woman to get married, not the other way round and especially in such a peculiar manner. The gentle picture of peeling the onion layers away has been distorted into a much more brutal image of cutting the onion up with a knife. Sometimes people never truly recover from a failed relationship or marriage and they’ll continue to feel heartache and bitterness. That’s why it’s so effective when Duffy says, “Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife”. When we look at “I Wouldn’t Thank You For A Valentine” by Liz Lochhead, we see some similarities and differences.
Liz Lochhead was also born in Scotland in 1947. She is a well-known Scottish poet, dramatist and performance artist. She began as a teacher in fine art, but became a full time writer in the 70’s. While both poets were born in Scotland, it’s only Lochhead’s Scottish heritage that shows through in the poem when she uses terms like “Same Auld Story” and “canny be bothered”. One of the most important points to remember when comparing these two poems is that unlike Duffy, Lochhead is not against love, she is merely against the artificial aspect of love that Valentine’s Day has created.
Lochhead feels that love has almost been destroyed in the way that people view it, when it seems that they have to buy their partner’s love with gifts and surprises. As a feminist, Lochhead feels that love shouldn’t be used as a profit for a company. The poem itself is set out as a rap, which is immediately peculiar. Not only is it highly unconventional in such a way because love poems are not usually ever written in the form of a rap. But also, it allows Lochhead to bluntly say what she wants, in a way that suits her. In modern day rap music, there is little or no censorship on what some artists will say.
Some love poems did have a musical quality to them and could be songs, but that was never done on purpose. So, in the modern era, Lochhead decided to take a modern genre music, but not one that would be associated with love like a ballad, she instead chooses a rap. The first line, like Duffy’s starts out negative in saying “I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine”. In fact, not only does it set the negative standard in which the rest of the poem lives up to, it also sounds quite rude and insulting to her partner who had probably gone out and bought her a loving gift, only to find rejection on Lochhead’s face.
The next line emphasises her ungratefulness when it says, “I won’t wake up wondering if the postman’s been”. Lochhead then writes, “Should 10 red-padded satin hearts arrive with a sticky sickly saccharine”. She uses alliteration here, but not just regular alliteration. Lochhead uses an “s” sound that is usually sounds like a hiss coming from a snake. But one can imagine Lochhead screwing her nose up as she looks at the flowers. Saccharine was an artificial sweetener, which is used to describe the flowers as being fake, and commercial. The next line says, “Sentiments in very vulgar verses I wouldn’t wonder if you meant them”.
Lochhead again uses alliteration, but her character is almost in a rage in a sense with her partner who had gone to all this trouble, but she’d rather if he hadn’t bothered at all. Her no nonsense approach continues in the next line when she begins condescending her partner by asking him, “Two dozen anonymous Interflora roses? ” Her Scottish heritage shows through here when she says, “I’d not bother to swither over who sent them! “. This essentially means that she’s not willing to go into a state of excitement over such a trivial gift.
Lochhead uses a refrain, for emphasis when she repeats the first line to end the first stanza, “I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine”. The second stanza begins, “Scrawl SWALK across the envelope”. Scrawl suggests untidy, or careless. Lochhead uses SWALK, which is an abbreviation for Sealed With A Loving Kiss. The envelope clearly has a love card, or letter inside from her partner. However, Lochhead scoffs and says, “I’d just say ‘Same Auld Story, I canny be bothered deciphering it. I’m up to here with Amore! The whole Valentine’s Day thing is trivial and commercial. A cue for unleashing clichi?? and candy heart motifs to which I personally am not partial'” Her Scottish vernacular shines through yet again. Unlike Duffy, Lochhead decides to enter some humour into her poems, and uses a more light-hearted approach. “I’m up to here with Amore! ” proves that point as Amore is Italian (known to be a city of love and romance) for love. She uses the term “commercial” which is how Lochhead genuinely views Valentine’s Day, as an excuse to buy meaningless gifts, to benefit companies.
“Take more than singing Telegrams, or pints of Chanel Five, or sweets, to get me ordering oysters or ironing my black satin sheets. Lochhead begins to name companies, in particular Chanel Five which is a brand of perfume, and a very common gift on Valentine’s Day. However, Chanel Five perfume often comes in very small quantities, so when Lochhead says “pints of Chanel Five”, it’s odd because even though that would surely be enough perfume to do her for the rest of her living life, she still is uncaring at the gesture. When Lochhead says “to get me ordering oysters” it’s probably because oysters are often seen as an aphrodisiac. The last line declares that her love can’t be bought and it will take more than a few gifts to sweep her off her feet.
The final line in the stanza is yet another refrain, “I wouldn’t thank you for a valentine”. Lochhead continues, “If you sent me a solitaire and promises solemn”. This is a clear reference to marriage, which may not be something that Lochhead wants. “Took out an ad in the Guardian Personal Column saying something very soppy such as ‘Who loves ya Poo? I’ll tell you, I do, Fozzy Bear, that’s who! ‘” is a humorous oxymoron, because the Guardian is an intellectual broadsheet, one that wouldn’t include Personal Columns. However, Lochhead has included it anyway, which is amusing, and keeps the light-hearted aura around the poem.
The Fozzy Bear/Poo reference is an attempt at Lochhead to say that love should be deeper than that, and the words “I love you” should be used when only when you really mean it. In her mind, “I love you” has lost next to all meaning, and has been completely demeaned. “You’d entirely fail to charm me, in fact I’d detest it, I wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything, I’m glad I’m past it”. The level of negativity is kept when Lochhead says “I’d detest it”. Not dislike, but sheer detest. Lochhead uses a very strong word, and a blunt tone to get her point across.
Lochhead refers to her younger days which begs the reader to ask if things like that worked on her when she was eighteen. Perhaps she was talking about something that had happened to her. At the very end of the third stanza, Lochhead repeats, “I wouldn’t thank you for Valentine”. The final stanza begins with Lochhead listing off more items that would fail to do the job, “If you sent me a single orchid, or a pair of Janet Reger’s in a heart shaped box and declared your Love Eternal, I’d say I’d not be caught dead in them they were politically suspect and I’d rather something thermal”.
Lochhead refers to Janet Reger’s, which is a very expensive brand of lingerie. Lochhead questions whether this gift is really for her, or has her partner bought it for his own enjoyment? Lochhead, as a feminist, gets to the point and refuses outright to wear it ever, and would rather have something thermal, which isn’t attractive at all. Lochhead ends the stanza by saying, “If you hired a plane and blazed our love in a banner across the skies; if you bought me something flimsy in a flatteringly wrong size; if you sent me a postcard with three X’s and told me how you felt…
I wouldn’t thank you, I’d melt”. Lochhead talks about “blazing our love in a banner across the skies” which is something you would see in a Hollywood blockbuster, not something that would usually happen in real life. Lochhead uses alliteration when she says “something flimsy in a flatteringly wrong size” and criticizes her partner for purposely buying something too small, in a pitiful attempt to buy her affections and love. At the very climax, Lochhead says “I wouldn’t thank you” which is a refrain from the end of the previous three stanzas but instead of saying “for a Valentine” she says, “I’d melt”.
What the reader has to understand is that Lochhead is not saying she melt with love, she’s saying she’d melt with embarrassment. When it comes to love, I feel that neither poet is right. Duffy has clearly been hurt in the past and is either given up on love totally, or is living in fear of rejection. I support Lochhead when she says that Valentine’s Day is a commercial attempt to dig deeper in our wallets, but I doubt that if somebody gave me a gift for Valentine’s Day, that I would send it back in their faces.
Love is a difficult subject, especially for me to criticize, when it doesn’t carry any of the heavier responsibilities for me yet, like marriage, children or finance. However, I feel that love should be embraced, and not criticized. Both poems put down the image of love that the modern public perceives. But in my mind at least, I can just say that if it makes them happy, then I have absolutely nothing against it.