Exemplar 'I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine' & 'Valentine'

You can download a copy of this document here

Read the two poems below and then answer both part a) and part b). You are advised to spend about 45 minutes on part a) and 30 minutes on part b). 

a) Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings about romance. 

You should consider: 

• ideas and attitudes in each poem

• tone and atmosphere in each poem

• the effects of the language and structure used. [20] 

AND b) Explore in detail a poem from your anthology which explores passionate feelings. [20]

I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

I won't wake up early wondering if the postman’s been. 

Should 10 red-padded satin hearts arrive with sticky sickly saccharine 

Sentiments in very vulgar verses I wouldn’t wonder if you meant them. 

Two dozen anonymous Interflora red roses? 

I’d not bother to swither over who sent them! 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

Scrawl SWALK across the envelope 

I’d just say ‘Same Auld story 

I canny be bothered deciphering it – 

I’m up to hear with Amore! 

The whole Valentine’s Day Thing is trivial and commercial, 

A cue for unleashing clichés and candyheart motifs to 

which I personally am not partial.’ 

Take more than singing Telegrams, or pints of Chanel Five, or sweets, 

To get me ordering oysters or ironing my black satin sheets. 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

If you sent me a solitaire and promises solemn, 

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!’ 

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. 

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine. 

 

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 rather not be caught dead in them they were 

politically suspect and I’d rather something thermal. 

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 Xs and told me how you felt 

I wouldn’t thank you, I’d melt. 

Liz Lochhead

 

Valentine 

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. 

Carol Ann Duffy

 

Sample answers… 

 

AO1- knowledge and understanding 

AO2- analysis 

AO3- comparison and context 

 

a) Compare how the speakers in these poems express feelings about romance. 

You should consider: 

• ideas and attitudes in each poem

• tone and atmosphere in each poem

• the effects of the language and structure used. [20] 

 

The question of what is authentically “romantic” is at the heart of both of these poems. While Lochhead’s poem takes a humourous swipe at the commercialism of Valentine’s Day and ends on a note of genuine feeling, Duffy’s is a more serious consideration of what a genuine love token should be. 

Both poets open with what appears to be a rejection of romance; Lochhead opens with the negative “I wouldn’t thank you”, a refrain running through the poem to emphasise her derision for modern Valentine’s culture, and Duffy opens even more emphatically on the negative “Not a red rose or a satin heart”; similar commercial tokens of love are rejected by Lochhead, “red-padded satin hearts.” In both pieces there is a sense of frustration with the way love has been reduced to cheap tokens that cannot adequately express what love is: Duffy uses the adjective “cute” to describe Valentine’s gifts which is surely meant to be read perjoratively, while most of Lochhead’s poem is devoted to her listing all of the empty gestures she does not want to celebrate her love; they are “clichés” and soppy.” This is most emphatic in her sibilant phrasing of “sticky sickly saccharine/Sentiments”; the stacking of the adjectives related to sweetness create an overwhelming, nauseating effect, an attitude towards this “soppy” version of love which would be shared by the voice of Duffy’s poem. 

Instead, both writers demand an authentic romance. Duffy expresses this through a Valentine’s gift of an onion, which becomes an extended metaphor for love in “Valentine.” It is “truthful” and “fierce,”, “possessive” and even “lethal”; this couldn’t be further from the sugary sentiments of the “kissogram” or the “satin heart.” The final word of the poem is “knife”, creating an unsettling effect and even a shadow of violence in the poem. As such, Duffy’s “truthful” love acknowledges darkness in this relationship as well as the depth and layers implied by the choice of onion as a metaphor. In contrast, Lochhead’s poem is lighter in tone; there is comedy in her lampooning of more conventional romantics who call each other “Poo” and “Fozzy Bear”. Rather than the “fierce” love of Duffy’s voice, Lochhead asks for a more simple love which is freely given, “If you sent me a postcard with three Xs and told me how you felt….I’d melt.” Indeed, Lochhead’s speaker declares “I wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything” suggesting she would also be wary of the kind of “possessive” and “cling [ing]” passion expressed in Duffy’s poem. Like Duffy, she rejects the idea of “clichés” but in favour of something warm and honest; the use of the adjective “thermal” is comically applied to the type of underwear she’d like to receive but can also be read as a metaphor for the kind of relationship she seeks. Like Duffy’s poem Lochhead’s has an impactful ending, but rather than unsettling the reader the final couplet changes our understanding of what has seemed 

to be a light hearted rejection of romance into something much sweeter; we realise that the voice is not rejecting love at all, but in fact seeks something genuine and heartfelt. 

 

b) Explore in detail a poem from your anthology which explores passionate feelings. [20] 

 

Robert Browning’s “Now” is a sonnet in which the speaker passionately requests a kiss from his lover. The first person, present tense form and the direct address to the lover, “you love me!” creates immediacy and intimacy in the poem, intensifying the passionate feelings described. 

Throughout the poem Browning explores the idea of one perfect moment of passion in this kiss. It is “but a moment”, the latter word being repeated a further three times in the poem, perhaps to emphasise that despite its fleeting nature this “moment” will become a beautiful memory that can be revisited. The power of the moment of passion is such that Browning claims it will overcome time itself, “make perfect the present” (there is a pun on the grammatical meaning on “perfect” here) and create the oxymoronic “moment eternal.” So intense will this kiss be, creating “ecstacy”, that although it may be fleeting “the tick of our life-time’s one moment”, it will render “time future, time past” meaningless. 

The lust that the speaker feels, yearning to embrace his lover, is expressed through careful structuring in the poem. The opening line establishes the voice’s passion with the intensifying exclamation mark and the use of the adjectives “whole life” and “but a moment” which emphasises the power of the kiss in the lovers’ lifetimes. The kiss itself is delayed until the final phrase of the poem, “lips meet”, again made more intense by the use of an exclamation mark. The change in rhyme pattern as the kiss approaches, with two perfect rhymes used (sweet/meet; more/core) strengthens the idea of a perfect kiss, two things coming together in harmony. 

The preceding clauses, all delaying the kiss, are full of passionate language. The phrase “ a rapture of rage” powerfully expresses stormy passion, creating a sense of being seized (“rapture”) by strong feelings; the noun “rage” here does not mean anger but rather the intensity of something like a raging storm. The sigh communicated in “Ah, Sweet-” captures the passionate yearning for the perfect moment of the kiss. As the end of the poem approaches the language becomes more intense; the line “When ecstacy’s utmost we clutch at the core” creates a sense of superlative feeling as the choice of the noun “ecstacy” suggests ultimate joy, while “clutch” matches “rapture” in its sense of almost desperate holding of something desired. When used along with “core” the line becomes almost metaphysical; this is a physical lust, yes (“cheeks…arms…eyes…lips”) but the use of “core” suggests a touching of souls too.