My Valentine

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‘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.

Approaching the Essay

Step 1:

Think about the task/question. In this case, the question is as follows:

Choose a poem which increased your understanding of any aspect of life in the modern world. State what aspect of life in the modern world the poem illustrates and go on to show how the poem, both by its content and by its style, increased your understanding.

Now, mind-map your ideas for key points you wish to make about the poem.

Step 2:

A vital part of your essay will involve the analysis of quotations. For each point you wish to raise you must gather relevant evidence from the text. Remember that you can use more than one quote per paragraph.

Step 3:

Develop a plan, following the PEE or a similar format. It is at this point that you need to think about the comments you will make about your quotations. In each paragraph, it should be clear how this ‘answers’ your question/task.

Step 4:

You should now have prepared enough material to help you begin your essay. Keep the criteria in mind at all times, remembering that you must balance your explanation of what is said with how it is said.

Essay Plan – Example

‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Task/Question:

A study of how in the poem ‘Valentine’, Carol Ann Duffy explores the nature and effect of modern relationships.

Introduction:

Remember title, author and reference to task. Introduce idea that Duffy is challenging the traditional view of Valentine’s day and aiming to present a more ‘realistic’ view of love through this extended metaphor.

Paragraph 1: From the first line of the poem, it is clear that the speaker in this poem wishes to reject modern symbols of love and romance.

Evidence: Sentence inversion; focus on ‘Not’. Repeated in poem. Reference to typical symbols/gifts.

Explanation: Duffy is aiming to show they are meaningless; her gift seems unusual but presents opportunity to reflect real experience.

Paragraph 2: Through an extended image of an onion, Duffy explores both the positive and negative aspects of love.

Evidence: Begins with positive. Comparison with ‘moon’ suggests romance, something heavenly. ‘wrapped in brown paper’ implies a gift.

Explanation: Recognising that love can still bring joy and is still worth chasing. Effect of relationship remains something positive.

Paragraph 3: However, as Duffy continues to develop this comparison, she reflects on the painful nature of love.

Evidence: Reference to physical and emotional pain; ‘blind you with tears’ and makes vision ‘a wobbling photograph of grief’.

Explanation: Love can alter judgment and can distress. Aim to alter purpose of Valentine poem now to recognize true nature and effect.

Paragraph 4: The image of the onion is then used to reflect upon the powerful nature of love.

Evidence: Word choice in ‘fierce kiss’ and ‘possessive and faithful’.

Explanation: Relationships can be consuming, with possibility of obsession or true commitment. It can be both frightening and rewarding.

Paragraph 5: Towards the end of the poem, Duffy begins to suggest that failed relationships can be difficult to overcome.

Evidence: word choice of ‘lethal’ and repetition of word ‘cling’

Explanation: suggests love can cause death literally/metaphorically. Once experienced, relationships...
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