Poem Critique: Valentine

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Carol Ann Duffy

Pupil Unit

Includes Formative Assessment Strategies


Critical Essay: Poetry



Carol Anne Duffy


By the end of this Unit you will be able to write Critical Essays on the poem ‘Valentine’.

You will be able to write relevantly about the central concern(s)/theme(s) of the poem and be able to support your views by reference to appropriate poetic techniques.

You will learn about/revise the following techniques:

• Imagery

• Tone

• Word Choice

• Structure

• Symbolism

You will be able to adapt your knowledge of the central concerns/themes of the poem and the techniques used to answer questions which ask you to choose a poem…

• ‘…which you feel is particularly relevant to a teenage audience.’

• ‘… in which … a seemingly unimportant incident acquires increased significance by the end of the poem.’

• ‘… in which you feel there is a significant moment which reveals the central idea of the poem.’

• ‘… which creates a sense of menace.’

• ‘… on the subject of love.’

• ‘… in which there is a noticeable change of mood at one or more than one point in the poem.’

Activities in this unit are designed to be performed in classroom conditions involving discussion, peer assessment and written assignment. The teacher will facilitate the lessons and discussions giving appropriate advice and modelling when appropriate.


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.

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.

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

The poem is not about an onion.

You have 2 minutes to discuss with a partner what the poem is about!

Focus of Close Analysis

‘the positive aspects of love conveyed in the poem and how Duffy has conveyed her speaker’s positive attitude through imagery, word choice and symbolism.’


‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

First we are going to examine the positive aspects of love conveyed in the poem and how Duffy has conveyed her speaker’s positive attitude through imagery, word choice and symbolism

• Duffy uses the extended metaphor of an onion to show her speaker’s positive attitude to love. • Working with a partner, complete the table below.
• Model your responses on the two that have been done for you.

|Context/ |Evidence/Quote |Analysis/ | |Understanding | |Evaluation/ | | | |Personal Response | |The title of the poem suggests |‘Valentine’ |Connotations of hearts/flowers/romance – we all | |that it will deal with fairly | |like the idea that someone loves us and cares | |conventional notions of love. | |enough to show it through giving us gifts | |Yet unconventional gift offered - |‘It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.’...
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