My Box by Gillian Clarke Poem Analysis

This sample paper on My Box Gillian Clarke offers a framework of relevant facts based on the recent research in the field. Read the introductory part, body and conclusion of the paper below.

‘ My Box’ by Gillian Clarke is a poem about a box a lover produces himself for his lover. The box symbolises the couple’s relationship and memories – as “in my box are twelve black books, where I have written down how we have sanded, oiled and planed…”

The box symbolises the memories and the joyous day they shared together.

Although the lover has “made the box,” it has been created by emotions, feeling and love. The box becomes the romantic image within the poem. In this box are stored memories of the couple’s relationship.

At the end of each stanza, the poet refers to a “golden tree.” This golden tree plays a significant part in the poem, as it reflects the solidness of their relationship. The tree represents the building and growing up of a beautiful relationship – having the branches representing the ups and downs of their time together.

‘Valentine’ on the other hand, has a far stranger meaning of love than My Box.

Analysis of Stanzas and Characters

The title tells you that the poem is a valentine – a gift of love – but straight away the poem makes it clear that it is not an ordinary type of valentine “not a red rose or a satin heart,” rejecting conventional presents, as she gives an onion.

It seems rather strange that someone would give their lover such a worthless gift.

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However, when we realise what the onion symbolises, we understand that it actually is the perfect gift.

The poet uses an extended metaphor. She writes about her relationship as if it was an onion. For example “It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light…” This reminds us of the papery, brown skin of an onion, and the moist, shimmery moonlight ‘glow’ of an onion when it is freshly peeled. Love is often associated with moonlit night, so this is a romantic statement. The onion is wrapped in brown paper, suggesting that her love is pure and simple; therefore the onion can say all she wants to say to her lover. It is interesting that where other poets might talk about their feelings for a lover using symbols, this poet uses a symbol to talk about her love.

A brown paper wrapping has to be removed. So does the onion skin. When the different layers of the onion are revealed they are like ‘the careful undressing of love,’ that is, the discoveries that love brings. In My Box, however, a similar picture is drawn, as the ‘golden tree’ takes time to grow, it has to be nurtured, fed and looked after – just like the relationship.

Carol Ann Duffy makes you more aware of the poem by using an unusual image- it makes you curious – therefore it persuades you to carry on reading.

The poem shows how normal valentine gifts do not necessarily have to show you love someone. That is why she uses an onion to prove her point. She argues that an onion is a good symbol of the relationship she has with her partner.

My box is more rural – referring to “harvested apples,” ” gold crests and rare red kites,” where as Valentine uses simple words and language.

Both poems portray a picture of how the present symbolises love- both in a positive and romantic attitude.

“My box is made of golden oak,” is the first line to My Box – she tells us how her box is made of oak – which is solid wood, suggesting the stability and strength of her own relationship.

Valentine explains how an onion “is a moon wrapped in brown paper” and how “it promises light, like the careful undressing of love.” The poet creates a sexual yet delicate image in these lines – sexual by the word “undressing,” yet delicate created by the word in front of it – “careful.”

In the first stanza of My Box, the poet stresses how beautifully the box has been made – how the lover “fitted hinges and a lock of brass and a bright key.” She explains how “he made it out of winter nights, sanded, oiled and planed,” this box making it seem as though it took a long time to make it, and creates the box to be very precious to the woman.

In the second stanza, she discusses some of the things they have achieved throughout long years of their relationship. She has written this all down in her “twelve black books” and keeps this in the box.

In the last stanza, the woman wants her lover and/or people after her to come and read all of this- “I leave it there for you to read or them when we are dead,” e.g. good relationships, golden trees are slowly made – in other words they don’t come easily but have to be nurtured and worked out.

Both poems explain how love is everlasting – the golden tree represents the purity and value of love and the onion represents how you have to peel each layer of your lover to reveal a layer of them. The poet adds a note of caution – too much commitment could kill off their relationship- “Lethal.”

The vocabulary used in My Box is connected to nature- nature representing their love and feelings, where as Valentine uses words describing the onion, or words that are connected with love to the onion. The language and vocabulary is very simple – perhaps to suggest that she wants a simple, uncomplicated love.

She makes statements – ” I give you an onion” ” it will blind you with tears.” They make the poet sound definite and authoritive.

Carol Ann Duffy gives you the message that an onion is more than a soppy card or a cute teddy. My Box on the other hand is more conventional and explains how “in my box are twelve black books- how we have sanded, oiled and planed” the relationship.

Gillian Clarke places her words in threes – “sanded, oiled and planed” ” seen jays and gold crests, rare red kites… harvested apples and words and days.” The repeated structure of ‘and’ emphasises what is going on.

It is important to notice the spaces between the stanzas in Valentine. For example it is interesting that “I am trying to be truthful” is a statement on its own, (to emphasis how vital truth is in a relationship) but is followed by “not a cute card or a kissogram.” The second pause allows us to reflect that cute cards and kissograms (more usual valentine gifts) don’t really reflect ‘true’ love.

In My Box, the beats in a line are regular- 8,6,8,6 etc, as are the lines. This suggests that she wanted her poem to be solid – like her golden tree.

Carol Ann Duffy uses a lot of I/you structure in Valentine. The ‘I’ is the speaker and the ‘you’ is the recipient of the onion. This allows Carol Ann Duffy to construct something like a one-sided dialogue.

In My Box, Gillian Clarke also uses ‘I,’ but she also uses ‘we’- referring to the couple, not just an individual.

If we think of the metaphors for Valentine’s Day; the roses, satin hearts, and cute cards, it is clear to us by now that Carol Ann Duff’s intention is to eliminate the ‘pretty’ image of Valentine’s Day – to make people realise that love is serious.

“Take it.” Line 18 tells us that ‘you’ have not taken the onion yet. The second offer of the onion takes us to the final stanza, where more metaphors are found. “Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring.” The poet used platinum – taking a deliberately unromantic view. The speaker goes for the plainer look metal, but one of worth.

The ring inspired by the onion is offered with “if you like.” The person to whom the whole onion is given to is offered the choice. There is no promise of hearts and roses.

“Lethal.” Usually this word is linked with danger and deadly, yet it is used in the poem. The speaker cautions the recipient- that too much commitment could lead to the breaking off of their relationship.

Most of the poem sounds as if the lines are natural and spontaneous, being written as the words came to her because there is no rhyme in the poem. However, some of the sounds are carefully arranged. “Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips.” The s sounds may suggest a couple kissing.

” I give you an onion” is repeated – it reinforces that it not a joke, that she is giving this person an onion and really means it.

The poem does not have a regular beat or form as My Box. The lines and stanzas are of irregular length. This could be to give a sense of urgency, or that because traditional poems are often written very regular and may even rhyme, her decision not to confirm to this stereotype is further proof that her love goes beyond the ordinary, and so is that much more special.

The tone of the poem is sad and negative, warning her lover not to get too close, yet realistic, but encouraging and warm. My Box has a warm and encouraging tone to it – it is gentle and tender.

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My Box by Gillian Clarke Poem Analysis. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

My Box by Gillian Clarke Poem Analysis
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