The two poems, ‘A Red, Red, Rose’ by Robert Burns, and ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy differ greatly, although the theme of love remains invariable throughout. The poems were written in different centuries, ‘A Red, Red, Rose’ was written in the eighteenth century, ‘Valentine’ was written in the twenty-first. This could be a factor in the great contrast between the two. It could be seen to be a good demonstration of how people’s attitudes towards love have changed through the centuries. Burns’ love is reflected as very stereotypical, almost, ‘fairytale, love until the last verse.
The opening line; “O my luve’s like a red, red, rose” contains a very stereotypical metaphor for love; the “red, red, rose”. Burns has written this poem in a very structured manner, the stanzas each have four lines and there is a very tight rhyme scheme; the second and fourth line of each verse rhyme, and this pattern is never broken. This makes the poem very rhythmic and quite formulaic. Burns’ poem does convey very strong, definite romantic images, and with these the depth of his feeling is also conveyed. A good example of this is the, “red, red, rose” the alliteration gives the metaphor strength and adds to the rhythm of the poem.
The colour red, which is associated with love, expresses passion and intense feeling. The rose is formed perfectly, is very beautiful and is very sweet smelling; this may be a metaphorical reference to his lover. The poet, in the next line goes on to say, the rose is newly sprung, which suggests his love is fresh and that the rose, like his love, is at its best. This line also suggests Burns’ realisation of this new powerful feeling; love. Throughout the poem Burns makes reference to the natural world, firstly with the ‘rose’ then the ‘seas’, a ‘rock’ and then the ‘sun’.
These references could be connected to the eternity of the natural world and thus the eternity of his love. The phrase, ”Till a’ the seas gang dry’ is repeated twice for emphasis. It suggests that his love is as vast, as deep, and as perpetual as the seas. He talks, then about him loving her until ‘the rock melt wi’ the sun’ this is another very powerful metaphor written with the eternity of the natural world and the end of time in the forefront of the poet’s mind. The last verse introduces, for the first time, a negative attitude, it starts; ‘And fare thee weel, my only love’.
This line obviously suggests that the two lovers are parting; this could be a reference to one of his mistresses, of which he had many throughout his life or even his illegitimate child whom he saw only very rarely. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Valentine’ is less traditional and very different from, ‘A Red, Red, Rose’. It has no structure at all, it is completely free verse and unordered, and this suggests that the poet’s feelings are very unordered too, and it gives the poem a sense of urgency. The free verse structure could also be telling the reader that the poet’s love is individual and not stereotypical like Burns’.
These atypical feelings of love are reflected very well in the first line when the poet tells the reader, her love is – ‘Not a red rose or a satin heart’, which are thought of as normal symbols of love. She says in line one of the second stanza, ‘I give you an onion. ‘ Again, an atypical connotation with love but a sign of how individual her feeling of love is. Onions have layers; this could be tied in with the way in which the poet feels love, showing it is not on a superficial basis but goes much deeper than the surface.
She emphasises the idea of layers again in the next line – ‘a moon wrapped in brown paper’ – the brown paper could be seen as referring to the poet’s skin in which the onion is contained, telling the reader, yet again, that her love goes much deeper than the surface. The ‘onion’ is used on numerous occasions throughout the poem and the poem could be read replacing the word ‘onion’ with the word ‘love’ and as well as making sense the poem would mean almost exactly the same thing. Duffy’s third stanza starts with one word, which stands totally alone, – ‘Here. This word is quite emphatic; she is willing the person she loves to take the onion/her love.
She goes on to say, ‘It will blind you with tears’ this conveys the idea that love will not all be plain sailing but that it will sometimes bring pain as well as pleasure. The poet’s fifth stanza consists of only one line – ‘Not a cute card or a kissogram’: here she is trying to get across the idea that her love is not superficial, traditional or typical but individual. This line though could indicate that unlike Burns’ poem this more modern poem, is not timeless, it raises the question; in three centuries will people know what a ‘kissogram’ was?
Will there be someone in my shoes in three centuries writing a comparison of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem to another? The poet, in the next stanza, writes – the onion’s ‘fierce kiss will stay on your lips’ expressing passion, and illustrating the idea that love never leaves you. The word ‘fierce’ implies intensity of feeling but also pain and violence, this is the first time in the poem that violence is suggested but it is implied again at a later stage. The final stanza begins with the phrase – ‘Take it. ‘ This phrase is presumably referring to the onion, it implies strongly that it is not an option he must take her love.
The following line goes on to describe it – ‘Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring’ this is pointing to the fact that if the two enter into wedlock the love may be taken for granted and therefore not fully appreciated. The ring will ‘shrink’ around their fingers and it will be stuck there and impossible to remove whether they want to or not. She then goes on to make marriage optional by writing, ‘if you like’. This line begins with a lowercase letter as all of the negative lines in the poem do, along with many of the line suggesting commitment.
Could this be an indication that Carol Ann Duffy does not want to commit? The fourth line of this stanza is one word long: ‘Lethal. ‘ This is a very unusual word to put into a love poem especially in such an ardent context. Duffy could, here, be illustrating the fact that love, like a lethal weapon, has to be handled with immense care. The penultimate line – ‘Its scent will cling to your fingers,’ – is referring to the idea that her love will never really leave her lover it will always be there like the scent of an onion.
In this line there is a careful word choice, Duffy makes use of the word ‘scent’, she does not say smell or odour, which suggests that it is a pleasant aroma, not an awful stench. The final line of the poem contains another reference to violence, Duffy writes; its scent will ‘cling to your knife. ‘ This line is not begun with a capital letter, which could be implying that the scent is a bad thing this is, though contradictory to the implications in the previous line. These two poems are utterly different in style; they are though, similar in that they both express the individual poets’ experiences, feelings and emotions connected with love.
They are written at different stages of particular relationships, Burns’ poem is written in an established relationship when the vicissitudes of life tore the two lovers asunder, whereas Duffy’s poem is written with many references to the future: ‘It will blind you… It will make… Its fierce kiss will… Its scent will… ‘ Burns’ poem is a very traditional poem talking of very traditional love, whereas Duffy’s poem is more contemporary and abstract. In my opinion the Burns poem is the better of the two. Although Duffy’s poem contains many interesting ideas, I feel that Burns’ poem is more effectual because it is timeless.