The poem is only twelve lines long, but de Souza explores important concepts, like the nature of neglectful and emotionally painful relationships. This is all done while also offering the intended reader—a woman, advice.
Explore Advice to Women
‘Advice to Women’ by Eunice de Souza is a unique poem that addresses the “otherness” of lovers and what role cats can play.
The short poem presents itself as a piece of advice to women. The speaker suggests that women should get a cat, and from its neglect and general lack of love, they will learn what it’s like to be in an “othering” relationship in which one’s romantic partner remains emotionally separate from them.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Advice to Women’ by Eunice de Souza is a twelve-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific line scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, there are examples of rhyme in the poem. For example, “surprise” and “eyes.”
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 as well as lines eleven and twelve. It is used in the transition between most lines of this piece.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example: “That stare of perpetual surprise / in those great green eyes.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “cat” and “cope” in lines one and two as well as “learn” and “lovers” in lines two and three.
when they need to.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker (likely another woman) begins by giving women a three-line piece of advice. They tell women that if they want to “learn to cope with / the otherness of lovers,” they should keep cats. At first, the suggestion may not make a great deal of sense to readers. But, throughout the next lines, the poet explores how a cat might benefit a woman, her love life, and her general progression from life to death.
In these lines, the poet uses the word “otherness.” This is the way in which men may separate themselves from their female partners (the women who are the intended listeners of the poem). They might treat “you” as “other” in a way that allows them to keep a distance from you in some ways, or they may keep their own inner lives away, othering themselves.
The speaker notes that “otherness,” especially in cats, is not “always neglect.” Cats are what they are. They come when they need to and do not display many of the negative characteristics that come with neglectful lovers. (These are explored briefly in the next lines.)
Cats are predictable, and although they may not always show a great deal of affection, they need you and will always express their own needs quite clearly.
Don’t cuss out of the window
to die alone.
In the seventh and eighth lines, this speaker alludes to one of the negative characteristics of a human partner. They may show their anger by lashing out at other people from the safety of their own positions. While cats might stare at the window at a bird, wishing that they could hunt it, they are not outwardly aggressive in the same way.
The final lines are the most important. Cats stare at their owners with “great green eyes” that will “teach you / to die alone.” When seeking out relationships, many people are trying to find someone to spend the rest of their lives with. These relationships should, in their minds, end with the two dying together. This taps into the nearly universal fear that people have of dying alone.
But, if one keeps a cat, they are going to learn about the neglect of the world on a small scale. They will learn how to deal with the possibility of dying alone.
The theme of this poem is relationships. The speaker is specifically interested in describing negative relationships that leave a woman detached from her partner. Cats are a way of experiencing the same attachment without losing as much as one does when they surrender themselves emotionally to a lover.
The purpose of this poem is to take a satirical, although still quite serious, approach to the nature of relationships. While the speaker’s advice is unusual and could be described as satirical, it also makes sense. The speaker clearly sees how a variety of women approach relationships and feels that first understanding an owner/cat relationship would be beneficial.
The meaning is that partners in relationships can be fickle, unloving, and distant—like cats. By keeping a cat first, women can learn how to deal with this “otherness” first hand. They won’t be as surprised, or perhaps as willing to put up with it, in a romantic partner in the future.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Who Said It Was Simple’ by Audre Lorde – is a powerful poem about the inequalities in various civil rights movements during the poet’s lifetime.
- ‘Postfeminism’ by Brenda Shaughnessy – uses imagery to depict a woman’s experience in the world while alluding to the phases of feminism.
- ‘Barbie Doll’ by Marge Piercy – was inspired by the traditional girl’s toy, the Barbie Doll. It explores themes of feminism and expectations.