Duffy has also used words which make the message ambiguous as the reader does not really know how serious Duffy is about an onion being a Valentine’s Day gift or whether she uses an onion as a object of effective comparison or she is frustrated with the idea of love and relationships. The whole expression of thought does help her in successfully achieving a gloomy and sedate mood and help the reader to interpret her work better.
The use of diction and word choice in the poem is an effective device that Duffy uses to express the mood in the poem and aid the reader to understand the poems deeper message, while influencing the readers understanding of the theme from her viewpoint. The title ‘valentine’, is associated with loved ones, and the use of the title seems ironical, as the reader, from the beginning of the poem thinks that the poem is about a happy memory of a loved one, but is taken aback by the first line “Not a red rose or a satin heart. I give you an onion.” she expresses that she gifts an onion, which is unheard of, as it is mundane.
The reader here is a little confused, typically on valentine’s day, a red rose or a satin heart is ideal and very popular, however the use of the word ‘Not’ suggests that this poem does not comply with the traditional romantic beliefs. The use of ‘onion’ itself is very thought provoking, and the reader will be confused at this point and wonder what the poem is actually about and why Carol Ann Duffy has adopted such a strong dislike for her loved one. The explanation she provides for using the onion is very simplistic, however, its associations with the loved ones shows the level of thought that was put into the work.
She uses the ‘moon’ to compare the onion with, and expresses how giving an onion is a non-materialistic gift unlike the gifts that people give nowadays. To express the simplicity of the gift, she adds ‘wrapped in brown paper’ which shows the reader the simplicity of thought. We know here that she probably believes in a non-romantic love, but appreciates the purity and the deeper emotions of love. The reader would probably appreciate the purity in her love, but would not understand it, as today we live in a fast and materialistic world.
The words ‘Here’, ‘Take it’ and ‘Lethal’ all followed by a full stop suggests that Duffy is emphasising the fact that she wants to give the gift and she is serious about it. Through these words the reader in the poem (the lover) is forced to accept the honesty in her love and appreciate it, however the reader is foxed by this unconventional gift. ‘It will blind you with tears like a lover.’ is a simile which suggests that a lover, like an onion can make a person cry.
It is known that people tear while cutting onions, which Duffy uses in her poem to compare it to a lover. The reader through this example realises the striking resemblance between an onion and a lover. it becomes clearer and more apparent that Duffy is serious that an Onion should be considered as a gift. She conveys that stereotypical gifts are strictly commercial and do not give a true account of what love is actually about. She then goes on to tell of her gift of an onion. She says” it promises light like the careful undressing of love.” possibly to further state its importance and suggest that love, like an onion, has layers and there may be underlying depths.
Mid way through the poem she describes how the onion “will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief”. This illustrates how Duffy believes that love overwhelms and becomes part of us. It is seen in our reflection. She also conveys how love is not always happy but can turn sour and cause heartache and pain. The effect of these descriptions on the reader makes him slowly realise how, the onion’s fierce kiss and its scent are long lasting, unlike that of a lover. Overall through the use of appropriate word choice, a formal, yet moderately persuasive tone, she conveys to the reader that an onion is perfect gift and sets the mood a strong poem and leaves the reader in thought.
In this poem, Duffy writes in free verse, with short and long sentences, exploring her ideas of unconventional, long lasting love and makes the reader understand true love in a non-romantic way, which is completely pure in its nature. The reader in made to indulge in the poem because of the use first person, ‘I will give you an onion’ almost as though a true account is being portrayed, however the use of future tense shows that the event is about to happen, rather than an experience being retold. Many images of reactions occur to the reader as he imagines the lover being presented with an onion, and the reactions of the lover are not conveyed in this poetry leaving it to the discretion of the reader.
The poet’s viewpoints about the subject throughout the poem are constant through the repetitions of ‘I will give you an onion’; this is probably a connotation of unconditional, unwavering, true love. This helps in presenting a constant serious mood, whereby Duffy successfully attracts the reader’s attention, the repetition especially emphasises on the nature of the love. The repeated phrase here is unaltered and does not contribute to the rhythm, but it maintains a strong and serious mood for the poem.
The pace Duffy uses is a slow one, so that each word is clearly understood and the readers stops and contemplates the connotation of each word. Duffy uses mainly end stop lines and a few enjambments to ensure that the pace of the poem is slow to maintain a constant mood. The line lengths are varied, with many short lines, a few one word sentences and a few long sentences. The use of ‘Here’ and ‘Lethal’ as one word sentences suggests that these words are of prime importance. The reader is made to understand that Duffy means to present an onion seriously after reading ‘here’. ‘Lethal’ is used to describe the onion’s scent.
The long sentence ‘Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like.’ has many connotations to it suggesting that an onion has many layers, just like a love, and once the inner most layer has been discovered, and passionate love is found in a soul mate, people get married. The other lines are fairly short, about 4-5 words per line showing that her ideas are concise and well thought of. This affects the pace, the reader reads the poem slowly, as though grasping each word, and Duffy uses this to create a serious mood. She also uses two enjambments to allow some freedom of thought is replicating the free loving nature of true and unconditional love.
In conclusion, Duffy has effectively conveyed an important message to the readers through simple but thought provoking writing and she sustained the reader’s interest by creating a serious atmosphere and allowed the reader to infer for himself the implications of an onion as a Valentines Day gift and its effectiveness as one. Clearly she expressed her views against stereotypical gifts and their commercial nature, by showing her readers how simple love can be.