I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine

I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine
Liz Lochhead

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.
Analysis

Have you ever sent a Valentine’s Day card to anyone? You do so because you like them, admire them, or even, love them. You sometimes put your name in them and at other times, you put something like “from a secret admirer” in them, to make the person wonder who it is that has sent them a card. It is love commercialised by this modern age that we live in, where cards, chocolates, flowers etc are given as gifts in fondness and even, in love.

This poem immediately states its writer’s opposition to such things as this, when it says “I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.” The writer is being very cynical about love here, thinking that to send such cards as this is a waste of time. This is someone who refuses to enter into such frivolities, believing that she “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.” Clearly, to her, the very idea is vulgar and something that should be avoided, suggesting that here we have someone who has been hurt in the past and who now refuses to love or be loved. Doing such things, to her, will not result in success.

To her, the sender is a fake! She says she “wouldn’t wonder if you meant them” when you send the presents, because to her, it is a waste of time. Such things are for those fools out there who fail to see how much they are being conned into spending their money on worthless things that eventually, will be thrown away, eaten or wither away. To her, this is total idiocy!

One can understand her ideas about love if we find she has been hurt before. We assume that this is the case, especially as we consider the following words after someone sends “two dozen anonymous Interflora [delivery company] red roses” and she feels the despair of them, the death of them, the sense of decay all around her. She uses a word that is not a word when she also says that she would “not bother to swither over who sent them!” Why should she, she is thinking. To what end would it do her any good? Once again, she repeats the opening line with “I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine” and the first verse comes to a circular end. The same line starts and ends the verse. This is done on purpose, to drive the point home.

Now she has done that, she has made her statement and she can settle down to have a gripe at this foolishness called love, as she believes it to be. She does so by suggesting that to “scrawl” the acronym of “SWALK across the envelope” which stands for SEALED WITH A LOVING KISS, seems a waste of effort because the sender is not going to get anywhere in doing so. The response that would come would be one of “Same Auld story,” as if this has happened before and the person who has sent has not learnt their lesson. Notice here the words “auld” and “canny” and try to figure out where this poet is from, or where the speaker hails from and you get dialect words being used. I live in the north east of England and people use the word “canny” here too, but not for “cannot” as such, but for something good, or something “canny,” so be careful when trying to translate.

The poet says she “canny [cannot] be bothered deciphering it” because she is “up to hear with Amore!” Amore being translated as “love” means she is fed up with love and its fake place in life. To her, “the whole Valentine’s Day Thing is trivial and commercial, a cue for unleashing clichés and candyheart motifs” which personally offend her. She is “not partial” to such things and is letting the world know about it too. Does this read as a polemic against love? Do some research and try to understand what I mean.

For her to be impressed would take “more than singing Telegrams, or pints of Chanel Five, or sweets” for she feels she cannot be bought with that kind of gift. She is not going to offer up her love just because someone spends a lot of money on Chanel No. 5. Neither would any of this nonsense “get [her] ordering oysters or ironing [her] black satin sheets” for some night time shenanigans to take place. Think about it! Oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac and precursor to love making. Forget it, she is saying and try to love with a purer love. Try to show and share something that is purer, but the thing is that there is nothing purer than true love and she fails to see this through every line of her poem, such is her bitterness towards the very idea of love. This is why she says “I wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine,” repeating the style of the end of the first verse at the end of the second in an attempt to sound even more annoyed at the concept of love shown in this manner.

Then, cynicism turns to black humour, dark humour, as she gives her responses to anyone who dare send her a gift on that horrible day. She says “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?” then her response would be equally as daft and direct, leaving the sender in no uncertain terms as to what she thinks about such a card or message. She would respond with “I do, Fozzy bear, that’s who!” The use of a character from The Muppet Show who is usually derided for being not very clever [and who tells awful jokes] is an interesting choice. Perhaps she is saying the sender of such a card or message in the ‘Personals’ is as daft as Fozzy Bear? The sarcasm in those words is cutting, harsh to the sender and hurtful to anyone who hears the words. Such is her resentment at the very nature of love.

No matter what the man or woman tries, she knows that she would not be charmed in any way for inside her, she hates the idea and states that she “wouldn’t be eighteen again for anything.” She is glad such times are behind her. She is glad she is “past it,” reflecting her growing age and for the fact that she reiterates that she “wouldn’t thank you for a Valentine.” Note the repetition again. It is used as a technique, for dramatic effect. When you read it, you are supposed to add more venom into the line the further down the lines of poetry you read. By the end, it should be extra forceful, venomous, spiteful almost.

Then she says “if you sent me a single orchid,” which is usual in these times as it is a flower representing love, or “a pair of Janet Reger’s,” and “declared your Love Eternal,” then her answer would now be more spiteful than ever in that she would “rather not be caught dead in them.” Now for those students from another country, who may not understand the nuances used here, she is saying that normally, she would never want to wear such a thing [shoes at a guess] on any occasion because she is the more ‘practical’ kind of woman who prefers “something thermal” to wear rather than any fashion item. This is a hater of the traditional kind of love tokens sent on Valentine’s Day and clearly, she does not wish anyone to waste their time or money on her for she prefers the more mundane of things if someone is to give or send her a gift.

However, who of you would think of doing what comes next? Would you be the sort of person who would rent “a plane and [declare] love in a banner across the skies?” If this is the case, she is saying, then think again and if you bought her “something flimsy in a flatteringly wrong size,” then you might be getting closer to the right kind of gift. Her argument begins to soften towards the end [possibly] because of the last word of the poem and its duality of meaning in that she says that “if you sent me a postcard with three Xs and told me how you felt I wouldn’t thank you, I’d melt.” Now the word “melt” has two meanings. Nowhere in this last verse is there a mention of hot weather so the word “melt” cannot be taken to mean it is too hot and you feel like you are melting, a term used in the UK for sweating profusely. But, and it is a loose fitting “but,” the word “melt” can mean, in the context of love, that a person ‘melts’ by becoming more receptive to the sender’s advances.

So, with this in mind, it is clear to state that the opening verses [stanzas] of this poem are anti-love in the traditional sense of the word. If you send her tacky love tokens, then she will ignore your advances, but if you are bold enough to “blaze [your] love in a banner across the skies,” then she is prepared to think about it and ‘melt’ or ‘give in’ to your advances because in the end and with all things being equal, such a thing would be powerful to her where a pair of shoes or a tacky card would not.

Ask yourself, what is it that pleases you about Valentine’s Day? Is it the cards, the chocolates, the flowers, or just the fact that someone close to you is prepared to show how much they love you? For me, it is the latter. My Valentine will always be my true Valentine no matter how I go about sharing and showing my love for her, but it is nice, now and again, to do something outrageous, like organise a day out for her parachute jumping, [something she always wanted to do] to show her how much I care. This is why I appreciate this poem, because it discusses both sides of love; the tacky and sentimental versus the more sensible outpouring of the emotion.

Advertisements