Both “Valentine” and “Atlas” transcend the “red rose or…satin heart”, in their exploration of love. They discuss love from different angles, portraying a different opinion of the place that love takes in life. They both use extended metaphors to express their views of love, choosing unexpected objects as the subjects of their metaphors. Duffy uses an onion, which generally implies tears, stinging, and is thought of with negative connotations.
This is in contrast to love, because this is regarded as a positive thing, which makes people happy, rather than “blind[ing them] with grief”. However, upon consideration, this comparison appears to be appropriate. It offers a realistic view of love, acknowledging the faults and lies in the usual depiction of love. It states the importance of understanding the dangers that come with love, and the long lasting effect it can have upon a person, even after the relationship has broken, as it “clings to [their] fingers”. It is evident that Duffy realises the multi-faceted nature of love. As although love “promises light”, it can also be “Lethal”.
This idea of an unexplored side to love is also developed in “Atlas”. Fanthorpe chooses to portray love in a more positive light than Duffy. Even though she sees love as a good thing, she too sees past the “cute card and kissogram”. Instead of seeing love as a bringer of “grief”, she uses “WD40” and “Road Fund Tax” to depict the less appetizing areas of love. Even in her use of mundane details, there is no sense of bitterness at any unnecessary obligation to do the things described. From “Atlas”, the boring tasks of daily life are shown to be of the ultimate importance. The classical comparison with “Atlas” shows the gravity of these details in life. Although the idea of “meeting trains” and other such prosaic tasks “keep[ing an]…edifice upright” seems almost hyperbolic, even this does seem to be true.
Fanthorpe and Duffy use language very skilfully, yet in different ways to convey their opinions. The use of language in “Valentine” illustrates Duffy’s viewpoint on love. She uses many words with negative connotations[SS1], such as “tears”, “fierce”, and “lethal”. This emphasises her realistic views on love, and on how love can be used in a destructive way. There is an implied threat of violence throughout the poem, shown by the use of the word “knife”. The use of it in the final line leaves the reader with a menacing view of love. “Possessive” is one of the words chosen by Duffy to explain the reason for her choice of an onion as a “Valentine”. This has a double edged meaning, as the word has many negative connotations [SS2]now. It implies an inescapable hold upon someone, whether wanted or not, and it often carries hints of peril with it.
Through the language chosen by Fanthorpe, her feelings on the necessity of the existence of love are made clear. Her description of her “edifice” as “suspect” in the penultimate line emphasises the vulnerability of those without an “Atlas”. Also, in the final section of the poem Fanthorpe creates a personal touch by moving into the first person. By doing this, she draws her readers into the poem, by emphasising “my faulty wiring…my dryrotten jokes”. Her allusions to building terms stress the need to work and “maintain” any relationship. Most people realise the importance of “insulat[ing]…faulty wiring, and “know[ing] the way/ The way the money goes”, even if they do not understand the importance of this in a relationship.
Therefore, by the use of this metaphor, Fanthorpe is able to add more impact to her point. Although Fanthorpe uses an extended metaphor throughout “Atlas”, the verbs she uses give a greater depth to her exploration of love as it “knows”, “remembers”, “answers” and “doesn’t forget”. This use of verbs causes the reader to rise above the boring tasks described, and see the importance of such deeds in a relationship.
In Fanthorpe’s view of love, it is essential to “uphold/ The permanent elaborate/ Structures of living”. It is given immense importance by the classical comparison of her “suspect edifice” being kept “upright…As Atlas did the sky”. However, this differs from Duffy, who portrays love as a choice, “if you like”. Although it is a choice, once made, it is inescapable as it will “cling” to you and “stay on your lips”. It is clear that Duffy is aware of the transience of love, as she states “for as long as we are”. Therefore, although a relationship can end, the love once felt has an interminable hold.
Both poets have a disillusioned view of love, and are “trying to be truthful”. However, the truths they are trying to reveal are of very different kinds. “Valentine” exposes that fact that there is much more to love can be first ascertained. There is a hidden, destructive force that comes with the “cute card or a kissogram”, which turns you into “a wobbling photo of grief”. This is done by the first verse making love seem to be really good[SS3], and then suddenly adding a negative tone in the second stanza. This change in tone is evident from the start with the use of the imperative “Here”. This makes the onion sound less like a gift, and more of a forced, or unwanted offering, being thrust upon someone. The poem continues to become more and more sinister, ending on an eerie note, with the use of “Lethal” to create tension, and a dramatic last line of “cling to your knife”.