The poem addresses a specific way of understanding life that is destructive and leads nowhere. The speaker encourages the reader to address life differently and try to understand that the veils that hide the world are never going to be lifted. ‘Monologue for an Onion’ concludes with a warning about the reader’s heart.
Explore Monologue for an Onion
‘Monologue for an Onion’ by Suji Kwock Kim is a thoughtful and creative poem that uses an onion as the speaker.
The onion-speaker starts out their monologue by chastising the reader for cutting it apart and peeling back its layers. The “you” in these lines cry but continues to seek out the onion’s core, or heart. As the lines progress, this is equated to someone’s search for truth in the real world. It’s a search that’s never going to resolve itself because the world is supposed to be, and is, viewed through veils.
You can read the full poem here.
I don’t mean to make you cry.
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,
In the first lines of ‘Monologue for an Onion,’ the speaker, an onion, begins by addressing “you.” The “you” in these lines is meant to be anyone who has ever peeled an onion or knows anything about it. The poet personifies the onion, allowing it the ability to speak and describe its experience begin “peeled” apart by “you.” It refers to its “body” and the fact that it didn’t mean to “make you cry.” Immediately, readers may find themselves feeling sympathy for the vegetable, despite the fact that its personality and feelings are entirely imagined.
The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.
Despite crying, you continue to peel the onion’s body away. Tears cloud “your eyes” as “you” seek the onion’s heart. It’s a “deluded” task, suggesting that the person pursuing it is never going to find what they’re looking for.
Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.
The onion also tells the reader that no matter how much time “you” hunt, there is no end to “each skin of mine.” There is another right after it. Inside and out, they are “onion-pure.” Through and through, they state, they are the same. There’s no way to reach a “heart” or true core. This is a reference to the shape of an onion and the way that the layers of the vegetable peel away endlessly until there is nothing left.
Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,
In the fourth stanza, the speaker addresses “you” as though you are at this moment cutting an onion. The onion asks if the way you are chopping away is the same way that you go through life. Do “you,” who are seeking the heart of something, treat life and other tasks in the same way. The reader is “driven by your fantasy of truth.” Now, the poet is equating the search for the center of an onion to the search for truth in the real world. One can dig and dig and never will they find a true center/heart/truth.
Stanzas Five and Six
Of lasting union–slashing away skin after skin
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil
In the fifth stanza, the speaker notes that “you” are leaving “ruin and tears” as the only signs of your progress. Eventually, this suffering is enough. You are crying and destroying something that isn’t going to provide any answers. The onion degrees that “enough is enough.”
The speaker goes on to tell the reader that it’s not worth the destruction of seeking out the truth. Instead, the world is what it is. It must be viewed “through veils.” This suggests that there is no way to ever achieve the truth or know what the purpose of life is. The veils are always going to be there. The speaker also notes that there is a “veil” in “the eye.”
Stanzas Seven and Eight
That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,
There is a veil intrinsic to who “you” are. One has their own perspective. Everyone’s life experiences have made them into the people they are. There is no escaping that. This means that one is only ever going to see things tinted through a specific lens.
The lines continue on, telling “you” that “you” are the one who is truly in pieces. Despite taking the onion apart, it’s “you” who need to be put back together. The speaker gets more specific, telling “you” that you changed as well.
Stanzas Nine and Ten
Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.
In the next stanzas, the speaker says that “your soul cut moment to moment by a blade / of fresh desire.” You have left destruction in your “wake” and for what? The speaker is asking. The “core” is “Not one.”
Again, the onion insults the reader. Calling “you” a “Poor fool.” The reader, they say, is “divided at the heart.” They are lost in a “maze of chambers, blood, and love.” By pursuing the same path that “you” are on now, you’re eventually going to get lost and that same heart you’re looking for is going to “beat you to death.”
Structure and Form
‘Monologue for an Onion’ by Suji Kwock Kim is a ten-stanza poem that is separated into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, readers can find great examples of literary devices (including half-rhyme) within the lines of the poem.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the second stanza and lines two and three of the seventh stanza.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “nothing” and “not” in line two of the first stanza and “grieve” and “glimpse” in line one of the sixth stanza.
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of words. For example: “I” which starts lines one and two of the first stanza.
The purpose is to address a purposeless pursuit for the meaning of life and a truth “heart” or core to existence. It is depicted through an extended metaphor about cutting an onion apart and never finding the center.
life wrong and tries to convince them that they should take a different approach to understand life (accepting its veils).
The speaker is an onion. This is maintained throughout the entire poem. It starts off with direct references to onion layers and proceeds to talk about the core of a human being.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Monologue for an Onion’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘A Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – a thoughtful poem about life’s struggles. The poet addresses the best way to confront these difficulties on an everyday basis.
- ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost – about the choices and opportunities in life. The poem highlights the sensation of regret that accompanies all the roads that a person doesn’t take.
- ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas – a powerful poem about how important it is, despite death’s inevitability, to fight against it until the bitter end.