There exists a duality in this sparsely written poem through combining the speaker's frustration and recognition of the humiliation of women with a spirit of resilience and dry optimism.
The premise of "Advice to Women" is that lovers often choose "otherness." These lovers have affairs and prove themselves unfaithful. Although this truth is minimized with lines delivered almost completely devoid of modifiers or literary devices, there is an underlying recognition that women often find themselves jilted by those who fail to recognize the boundaries of monogamous relationships. A sparse structure highlights the core truth of reality that women often face as they seek romantic partners.
The speaker suggests that women take note of the way cats navigate through such matters. The cat itself often presents a duality in symbolism. First, it has long been associated with fertility and healing. However, it often also symbolizes darkness and a cold sense of detachment. In this way, the speaker suggests that women are mindful of their own layered personas. It is possible to both embrace one's sense of femininity and maintain a sense of distance from lovers who simply need a "litter tray" to return to. The speaker notes the futility of "cuss[ing] out of the window" at "enemies" and instead advises women to watch for the look of "perpetual surprise" that follows from refusing to submit to traditional expectations governing the behavior and attitudes of women.
Within these sparse lines of advice, the speaker's frustrations toward her society are evident, yet the tone conveys a spirit of resilience that refuses to surrender her spirit to societal stereotypes.
Sometimes a cynical woman who has been unlucky in love will remark, “Forget men! Get a cat!” In her poem “Advice to Women,” Eunice de Souza also suggests that women have cats, but her reasoning is bit different. Cats, she explains, will teach women how “to cope with / the otherness of lovers” (lines 2–3). Cats are certainly independent sorts who prefer to do their own thing, which is usually the exact opposite of what anyone wants them to do.
Yet, the poet continues, cats do not always neglect a person. Instead, they “return to their litter trays / when they need to.” In other words, the poet claims that cats come around when they need something. Lovers, she implies, do the same, and the result is not always pleasant.
There is simply no help for it, the poet indicates. There is no need to be upset. One must simply accept the fact that cats will always look with surprise, perhaps having forgotten that a person is even present and perhaps wondering why they should care. Lovers, apparently, do the same, leaving one alone until the end.
In terms of form and style, the poem is in free verse with no regular rhyme or meter. It is basically prose sculpted into poetic lines. The lines are highly enjambed, meaning that sentences flow through from one line to the next. The entire poem, of course, is one metaphor comparing cats and lovers, but otherwise there is little in the way of enhanced poetic diction. However, the images of the “stare of perpetual surprise” and “great green eyes” are appealing and vivid.
Indian poet Eunice de Souza's "Advice to Women" encourages women to cultivate detachment in relationships. De Souza does this through an extended metaphor in which she likens a person in a healthy love relationship to a cat. Cats are not needy. They come around when they have a need but otherwise are independent, and they always maintain their aloof cool.
The poem is drily humorous in tone, adopting a distant and matter-of-fact tone about affairs of the heart.
De Souza uses the literary device of enjambment, which is when a line breaks before its thought is finished. For example, she writes:
if you want to learn to cope with
the otherness of lovers.
The enjambment slows the poem down, causing us to dwell on each line. The poem also uses imagery, which is description that employs the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. We can visualize, for example, the cat looking at the world with its "green eyes" and "stare of perpetual surprise" or sitting at a windowsill, refusing to engage in quarreling.
The speaker's tone of cool indifference mirrors the attitudes she hopes her female readers will adopt. It flies in the face of the intensity that we ordinarily associate with love poetry. The poem coolly refuses to conform itself to literary devices that we often associate with love verses, such as end rhymes or alliteration. Women don't have to play the traditional games, the poem implies, any more than this poem does.
Common themes in many of Eunice de Souza's works are the alienation of women and disapproval of patriarchal traditions. The intended audience of much of her work is the female population. In some works, she criticizes women, and in others, she encourages them. She aims to make women more self-aware and empower them.
As the title suggests, in her poem "Advice to Women," de Souza is advising women on how they should react to romantic rejection. By metaphorically comparing women to cats, she encourages women to look to cats as a model for how to behave when wronged or jilted by romantic partners. Cats are known for being arrogant, haughty, and indifferent. They come and go as they please. They do not hold grudges against their enemies. De Souza believes women should behave similarly. In a sense, her poem is a tutorial on how to be happy and single: "That stare of perpetual surprise / in those great green eyes / will teach you / to die alone."
The poem strongly reflects her own personal beliefs, as she chose to remain single. De Souza urges her female readers to be happy within themselves, just as cats are, and to handle romantic breakups with the same indifference that cats have toward the world instead of being brokenhearted or depressed when wronged by lovers.