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For the past year or two, I've been collecting poems about onions for an article I hope to write. Here follows my tearful anthology.

The Onion

The onion, now that's something else.
Its innards don't exist.
Nothing but pure onionhood
fills this devout onionist.
Oniony on the inside,
onionesque it appears.
It follows its own daimonion
without our human tears.

Our skin is just a coverup
for the land where none dare go,
an internal inferno,
the anathema of anatomy.
In an onion there's only onion
from its tip to its toe,
onionymous monomania,
unanimous omninudity.

At peace, of a piece,
internally at rest.
Inside it, there's a smaller one
of undiminished worth.
The second holds a third one,
the third contains a fourth.
A centripetal fugue.
Polyphony compressed.

Nature's roundest tummy,
its greatest success story,
the onion drapes itself in its
own aureoles of glory.
We hold veins, nerves, fat,
secretions' secret sections.
Not for us such idiotic
onionoid perfections.

— by Wislawa Szymborska
tr. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
from View With a Grain of Sand

Ode to an Onion

luminous phial,
petal by petal
your beauty was formed,
scales of crystal amassed
and dark earth in secrecy
rounded your belly of dew.
Beneath the earth
was the miracle
and when a clumsy green stalk
and your leaves like swords in the garden
were born,
the earth gathered her might
in showing your naked transparency,
and as in Aphrodite the distant sea
replicated the magnolia
raising her breasts,
so the earth
made you,
bright as a planet,
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
the table
of the poor.

you undo
your globe of coolness
in the fervent consummation
of the pot,
and the shred of crystal
at the ardent heat of oil
transforms into a curled feather of gold.
Also I will remember how your influence
quickens the love of the salad,
and it seems that the sky contributes
in giving you the fine form of hail
to celebrate your brightness minced
over the hemispheres of a tomato.
But at the pursuit
of the people's hands
sprinkled with oil,
with a little salt,
you kill the hunger
of the day-laborer on the hard road.

Star of the poor,
fairy godmother
in delicate
paper, you come from the earth,
eternal, intact, pure
as starseed,
and on cutting you
the knife in the kitchen
raises the single tear
without sorrow.
You made us weep without grieving us.
All that exists I celebrated, onion,
but to me you are
more beautiful than a bird
of blinding feathers,
you are to my eyes
a celestial globe, cup of platinum,
motionless dance
of anemone covered in snow

and the fragrance of earth
lives in your crystalline nature.

— Pablo Neruda,
tr. Paul Kerschen
from metameat.net

Lullaby of the Onion

Lines for his son, after receiving a letter from his wife in which she said that all she had to eat was bread and onions .

An onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
huge and round.

My son is lying now
in the cradle of hunger.
The blood of an onion
is what he lives on.
But it is your blood,
with sugar on it like frost,
onion and hunger.

A dark woman
turned into moonlight
pours herself down thread
by thread over your cradle.
My son, laugh,
because you can swallow the moon
when you want to.

Lark of my house,
laugh often.
Your laugh is in your eyes
the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat wildly in space.

Your laugh unlocks doors for me,
it gives me wings.
It drives my solitudes off,
pulls away my jail.
Mouth that can fly,
heart that turns to
lightning on your lips.

Your laugh is the sword
that won all the wars,
it defats all the flowers
and the larks,
challenges the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.

The body with wings beating,
the eyelash so quick,
life is full of color
as it never was.
How many linnets
climb with wings beating
out of your body!

I woke up and was an adult:
don't wake up.
My mouth is sad:
you go on laughing.
In your cradle, forever
defending your laughter
feather by feather.

Your being has a flying range
so high and so wide
that your body is a newly
born sky.
I wish I could climb
back to the starting point
of your travel!

Your laugh, eight months old,
with five orange blossoms.
You have five tiny
You have five teeth
like five new
jasmine blossoms.

They will be the frontier
of kisses tomorrow,
when you feel your rows
of teeth are a weapon.
You will feel a flame
run along under your teeth
looking for the center.

My son, fly away, into the
two moons of the breast:
the breast, onion-
sad, but you, content.
Stay on your feet.
Stay ignorant of what's happening,
and what is going on.

— Miguel Hernandez
tr. Roberty Bly
from Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, Carolyn Forche ed.

The Traveling Onion

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

— Naomi Shihab Nye
from Words Under the Words

Homage to the Mineral of the Onion (I and II)


In the onion, there's
something of fire. That fire known as
Fog. The onion is the way
fog has of entering the earth.

Into the soil. Through the green leaves of the onion.

Look how its leaves extend up into the air.
Look how, once cut,
an onion's leaf has air inside it.

Air is the generosity of fog.
With fog, there is generosity on earth.
These two thoughts are identical.

They are two thoughts that sustain the earth.
In these bellicose days that promise wars,
look how the onion helps fog
to sustain the earth.


The onion is also the way
soil shares the earth
with fire.

Through the leaves of the onion, songs pass
from earth up to the fire.
Fire, as you know, is fog.
And the songs —
the noise of feet when they step upon soil.

But only (I admit) if the feet are clad
in work boots, gum boots.
Never with feet clad in boots worn by soldiers.

If the feet are clad in such boots, of soldiers,
the leaves clam up.
And the song goes into the earth, where it lies
And the fog turns itself into gunshots
so as to vanish.
And at this time, it is not possible to share the earth.

— a translation by Erin Moure
from Poets Against the War

A selection from Songs to Survive the Summer

Use a heavy-bottomed
three- or four-quart pan.
Thinly slice six large

yellow onions and sauté
in olive oil and butter
until limp. Pour in

beef broth. Simmer
thirty minutes,
add red port and bake

for half an hour. Then
sprinkle half a cup
of diced Gruyère and cover

with an even layer
of toasted bread and
shredded Samsoe. Dribble

melted butter on the top
and bake until the cheese
has bubbled gold.

Surround your self with friends.
Huddle in a warm place.
Ladle. Eat.

— by Robert Hass
from Praise

Peeling Onions

Only to have a grief
equal to all these tears!

There's not a sob in my chest.
Dry-hearted as Peer Gynt

I pare away, no hero,
merely a cook.

Crying was labor, once
when I'd good cause.
Walking, I felt my eyes like wounds
raw in my head,
so postal-clerks, I thought, must stare.
A dog's look, a cat's, burnt to my brain---
yet all that stayed
stuff in my lungs like smog.

These old tears in the chopping-bowl.

— by Adrienne Rich


for Susan O'Neill Roe

What a thrill —
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian's axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Kamikaze man —

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when
The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump —
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.

— by Sylvia Plath

April 27, 2003 in Poems | Permalink