Love’s Two-Sided Knife – Not So Happy Valentine from Carol Ann Duffy

Dame Carol Ann Duffy, UK Poet Laureate

Dame Carol Ann Duffy, UK Poet Laureate



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

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 hoops shrink to
a wedding ring,
if you like.

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

Carol Ann Duffy (1955 – ) from New Selected Poems 1984-2004, Picador Poetry, 2004

Not a Valentine I would want to send my beloved today, Valentines Day, but as an example of what the very best of the best poetry can be, I would send it to her any day of the year! The author of this poem needs little introduction: current UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy winner of too many poetry honours to mention and appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2015 for her service to poetry.

What can I say about this poem that it doesn’t doesn’t say just perfectly? Not much. I treasure its truthfulness and its utter boldness in using the onion as a symbol for Valentine’s Day and not a rose or a heart. Talk about a cliche buster that hits the mark.

Duffy is no stranger to writing love poems that can make you blush, cry  and raise a hand in rueful recognition of all love’s triumphs and torments. Here is another love poem from her 2005 collection Rapture which is a book-length collection of poems from the start to the finish of a tumultuous love affair.  Lots of perfect ouches! in this collection. If I had a top ten list for individual books of poetry Rapture would be in that list!


Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head,
so I went to bed, dreaming you hard, hard, woke with your name,
like tears, soft, salt, on my lips, the sound of its bright syllables
like a charm, like a spell.

                      Falling in love
is glamorous hell; the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger ready to kill; a flame's fierce licks under the skin.
Into my life, larger than life, beautiful, you strolled in.

I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone's face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

and I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like a gift, like a touchable dream.

Carol Ann Duffy from Rapture, Picador Poetry, 2005

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