In this intense love poem Duffy rejects traditional symbols of love, such as 'red roses' or 'satin hearts' in favour of 'an onion'.
This suggests Duffy is criticising conventional ideas and empty gestures of love.
She is promising her lover, and the reader that her love is more original, honest and true.
Duffy shows her wit and poetic cleverness by managing to keep the extended metaphor of the onion being like her love going throughout the poem.
By doing this Duffy turns an ordinary object, an 'onion' into an unusual symbol of love, and makes it seem a more appropriate symbol than traditional Valentine gifts.
How would you feel if a boy or girl friend offered you an onion on Valentines Day?
Only Duffy's confidence and intelligence prevent an onion being a disastrous Valentine's present!
When you listen to the poem concentrate on the tone of voice.
Then think about how you would describe it.
Duffy's poem is structures around n extended metaphor comparing love and an onion.
In what ways is the onion like Duffy's love?
|It is round like a moon||The moon is associated with Romance|
|Its skin is white||It promises light - light is associated with truth, faith, beauty, innocence, etc.|
|You peel an onion||Lovers undress each other|
|Causes tears||Causes tears|
|Its taste is strong and lasting||Duffy's kiss is possessive and fierce|
|Onions have rings||Relationship are often symbolised by a ring|
|The smell of onions will stay with you||So will her love|
A speaking voice
Duffy creates a sense of an intimate conversation by using the words 'I' and 'you' as if she is talking personally to the reader.
By what other ways does Duffy make the poem sound like it is spoken to someone present?
The tone is very important is this poem.
How would you describe it?
How would you feel if the poem was written to you?
The tone seems to me to be confident, seductive and at the end of the poem strikes a note of warning. In the table below is evidence for each of these claims...
|Duffy also uses commands. In 'Here' and 'Take it' Duffy is telling her lover what to do. She is the one in control. She doesn't even need to use more than one or two words.|
|She refers to physical love 'the careful undressing of love' is tender, 'its fierce kiss' more passionate.|
|The blank tone comes from starting with rejecting conventional symbols, 'Not a red rose', and from the short, dismissive half of a sentence she uses, with its final full stop at the end.|
|She doesn't sound like she'd put up with any arguments.|
|She says that too much commitment and possessiveness can kill a relationship: `'a wedding-ring if you like. Lethal.|
|The line 'I give you an onion' is a statement. It is delivered in a matter-of-fact, deadpan way. But afterall, an onion seems a fairly unromantic symbol of love.|
|The poet is being comic, yet serious, is surprising the lover, and reader, and is making no apology or excuse for her behaviour!|
Perhaps in the final line there is also a more humble tone:
'Its scent will cling to your fingers cling to your knife.'
Could 'Your knife,' in terms of a relationship, be what the lover might do to hurt the poet? And despite that she'd still 'cling' on?
Perhaps, then, she isn't so confident in the end.
Traditionally love poems are written in the form of the Sonnet. The Sonnet is the standard form and was used famously by Shakespeare.
This poem is not a sonnet.
Moreover the form of the poem is irregular:
The lines are of varied length and the rhymes come in unusual places, to stress a particular word, such as 'lethal'.
Why then does Duffy come up with her own form?
|This is a wonderful, original, clever love poem. In it Duffy rejects cliched ideas of love and expresses how her love is:|
|Original, clever, intense, romantic, emotional, truthful, fierce, possessive, faithful, free and dutiful.|
|The tone of the poem is genuine, confident, seductive, intimate, and at the end pulls away to sound a note of warning and seems to admit some weakness.|
|Duffy manages to make the poem sound like a spoken voice, despite the fact that she uses structures it around an elaborate and imaginative extended metaphor. A difficult feat to pull off!|