Hi scholars! This time, we decided to use a slightly different approach for our second curriculum deep dive! This is “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy and in this post, we’re going to be looking at the discussion questions for this poem. This is a compilation of the opinions of some scholars in our community on the discussion questions. Enjoy!

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. ​

Discussion: Is love really more an onion than a rose?

Jackalyn So, Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Hong Kong (OnePwaa Director of Content)

It seems that Duffy used the metaphor of an onion because love makes you cry? Onions have a spicy taste and a strong, recognizable scent, indicating that love isn’t always sweet but the sensation is strong and you will remember it.

Tan Jie Ying, Penang Chinese Girls’ High School, Penang, Malaysia (OnePwaa Intern Scholar)

I’d say an onion is a better metaphor for love, albeit a borderline pessimistic one.

Nadine Elizabeth Hilman, Mentari School, Jakarta, Indonesia

Hmm I agree with the author that an onion is a better symbol for love than a rose. When I think about that flower, the first things that come to my mind are words like care, affection and desire; all pleasant nouns. But love isn’t always as pleasant as the image of the heart presents it to be.

Suzu Kitamura, Doshisha International School, Kyoto, Japan (OnePwaa Scholar)

I will have to respectfully disagree with the author that an onion is a better metaphor for love than a rose. The rose is considered to be a symbol of beauty, however, its thorns possess the power to harm and to hurt. While love can also be beautiful, loving someone means giving them the power to hurt you. Not only does the rose serve as a metaphor for the two sides of love, but also the effort needed to maintain a loving relationship with someone. A rose requires nurturing, care, and attention in order to thrive, and the same can be said about love.

The strongest of loving relationships last for an eternity: roses, even after a long time, can still be admired in the form of pressed or dried flowers. However, should two people cease to put effort into a relationship…it will wilt and die, eventually ending up at the bottom of a trash heap.

Lexi Prichard, Iona Presentation College, Perth, Australia (World Scholars Club)

Both roses and onions (and ogres) can be seen as whole entities, created by the culmination of layers- layers of varying substance, creating objects of varying cultural symbolism and meaning. The connection of roses to romance perhaps stems from the flower’s sweet smelling scent and botanically perfect exterior, cementing its place in our culture as the cliche floral motif of a perfect relationship. Yet we are also asked to consider the onion, a simple and versatile cooking staple that you’ll never find on a valentine’s day card. An onion is really ‘the ordinary’, a universal figure fulfilling the basic human need of nutrition. In this way, would it really be amiss to compare an onion to love? Is an onion not a symbol of the simplicity of love, of the human longing for fulfilment in the form of another? A rose is a projection of the perfect romance, yet an onion is something real and familiar, quite like what true love should be. I am not really enjoying romanticising my least favourite vegetable and falling down such a metaphorical rabbit hole, but the original question can be answered once we cease this relentless comparison and begin to pinpoint the ‘ordinary’ in our relationships, and the true nuances of the simplicity of loving.

DK Savage, International Community School Amman, Jordan

I love the deeper message behind the poem “Valentine” – not just questioning the stereotypes of romance, but questioning the very meaning of love itself. The metaphor of an onion to describe love is powerful, showing the sorrow of love through the tears caused, the beauty of love in the gentle care of an onion, and the strength of love in the power of an onion’s scent to remain for such a long time. The metaphor of an onion is beautiful, but I do not believe Carol Ann Duffy wrote this with an intention of buying an onion for her lover. Just saying.

Victoria Sin, Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Hong Kong (OnePwaa Director of Knowledge)

An onion, in comparison to a rose, is a more realistic (and also more pessimistic) representation of love and romance. A rose is a very stereotypical metaphor for love, and I believe that Duffy’s point of view in this poem is very refreshing – an onion has a strong and remarkable smell, much like love (it makes an impact.) An onion also has many layers for you to peel. You must take time and effort to slowly peel back the layers of the onion to see the deeper, more substantial layers. This is not unlike love and romance.

Caden Li, Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Hong Kong (OnePwaa Blogger)

Love can be fragile, frail like a rose. But the poet Carol Ann Duffy decides to compare love to an onion instead. She describes love as layered, one that needs undressing like an onion, whilst also paralleling its ability to make one tear up with the emotions evoked when in love. She even compares the strong scent of the onion to the passion and obsession within love, conveying that once you fall in love, you will often fail to pull yourself out. Although I believe that she makes fair comparison between the two ideas, what she fails to bring out of an onion that a rose can convey is the idea of pain in love. The thorns that are present on roses represent the imperfections in relationships. This signifies that even though love may involve struggles, its the flaws in the relationships that brings out its uniqueness, its own special kind of connection.

Rishika Arora, Shalom Hills International School, Gurgaon, India

This poem dig deeps under the layers of all clichés associated with the holiday. Human love is more in sync with an onion than it is with conventional symbols such as roses, cards and hearts. The onion described as a moon, tells us about the transient nature of love itself— it appears by night but vanishes by day, and controls the tides of human emotions, just like the ups and downs in a relationship. The speaker here presents love in its raw form— it is complex, intricate, and in its true essence, unconventional. Life and reality can often upset a relationship, just like the stinging taste and smell of an onion dwells far after it has been cut and tears have been shed. Love is dangerous, and this poem may come across as an ultimate declaration of undying love, the callouses that people develop around its concept, the unconventionality of an emotion so strong, or simply the negatives that comprise a relationship and how often they need to be compromised. Is love, in its core, simply what stereotypes make it to be, or a feeling that in spite of its pain should be relished with the nutrition (like an onion) it provides us?

What metaphor would you choose instead of an onion, if you were challenged to write a similar poem of your own? [Note: a few of the scholars we asked chose to write poems of their own in response to the question. Enjoy!]

Jackalyn So, Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Hong Kong (OnePwaa Director of Content)

I’d use a crayon as my metaphor; it’s colorful like the memories we’ll make, what we draw with it is up to us (this is the important part), the color or the crayon may change color according to the mood of our lives.

Tan Jie Ying, Penang Chinese Girls’ High School, Penang, Malaysia (OnePwaa Intern Scholar)

Personally, the metaphor I’d use for love is food. If you’re cooking for someone, you can’t just randomly throw their favorite ingredients into a pot and hope for the best. Forcing your favourite stuff onto them or cooking something the way you want it is a red flag too.

Conversely, if you’re the one eating, you can’t just pass judgement on whether the cook is terrible based on your own preferences. Ideally, both cook and diner learn to work their way around each other’s needs, adapt to the flaws of each other’s chosen ingredients, and learn to like it even though there is nothing lovable about the entire process or the end product.

Before you ask, I’m not hungry. I just grew up in a country where eating is the national pastime.

Emily Peng, SSIS, SIP Suzhou, China (OnePwaa Scholar)

I am a wilted flower and love is the rain. I am a struggling addict and love is my cocaine. I am a passionate, steady burning fire, and love is my spark. I am eternally blinded, and love is the dark.

But, oh my darling, do not worry.

Though love is painted with the weight of the world, Maybe, just maybe, Love is nothing more than You and I. Two fireflies, shining, On a dark and endless night.

We will fade. And when we fade, Our dark existences will be submerged into the oblivion. We will fade. And when we fade, We will be left with nothing but the shadow of our light.

But oh, my love, do not fear.

Because even then, Love will still Be you and I. Two temporary pinpoints of light, Shining, On a endless, endless night.

Joshua Chien, SUIS Gubei, Shanghai, China

Love has been compared to everything from a jewel and a fevered dream to a snowmobile and an exploding cigar. And while some comparisons evoke a sense of rapture, others impart feelings of cynicism or despair.

Love is a banana peel, made me slip but it made me feel. Love is a plant of the most tender kind, that shrinks and shakes to every sigh. Love is a truck and an open road, somewhere to start and somewhere to go Love is a kind of warfare, who it cuts down it does not care. Love is everything and anything, it can bring you pain or make you sing.

Mac Krongtham Kiatsupaibul, KIS International School, Bangkok, Thailand

Onions only represent love at one angle; that’s usually the sad one, and to simply describe it like that won’t be accurate. However, I would personally describe love to be like the flow of time. Time is unstoppable; time heals all wounds; time, or more specifically, the future, has variations. All these qualities simply represent love as a concept better.

DK Savage, International Community School Amman, Jordan

I would say love is an ocean. You start a journey and the water’s clear and calm and beautiful, and it’s heaven. But as you continue and get past the shore, the waves soon become violent and you don’t really know how to deal with it. You keep trying new things to stop yourself drowning, but the further you go through the ocean, the more violent the waves become, and the harder it is to get back to the gentle shore again. And, when you realise you want to go back, it’s too late because you’re lost in the middle of a violent ocean and all you can do is try to stay afloat.

Rishika Arora, Shalom Hills International High School, Gurgaon, India

For me, love is paper. It is fragile and is equally affected by the forces of nature— bring it too close to water and it wilts, bring a heart to close to uncertainty and it doubts. Burning paper leaves us with nothing but ashes just like breaking a heart takes out all of love’s marrow and leaves us with grief.

Love is a blank canvas, ready to be etched on with the emotions of the people involved— and all the right colours can either mingle to create a masterpiece, or their abundance can leave us with a splatter of black paint.

It can be crumpled, tore apart and thrown away— but it can also be recycled, reused, and may blossom into something new.

And that’s it for this post! we may be doing more similar posts in the future (compiling the opinions of different scholars). If you want to participate and share your opinions, feel free to send our Scholars team at OnePwaa a message!