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Bequest by Eunice de Souza

“Bequest” is written by the feminist poet Eunice de Souza in which she talks about how patriarchy shapes the destiny of women. She talks from the perspective of a woman speaker (probably representing the poet herself) whose mind is shaped by the authoritarian regulations of the phallogocentric society. Her tone remains a bit lost and reflects a sense of pain. This painful soliloquy is not only a confession of a single woman out there. It is an agonized monologue of all those women whose unique voices are either subdued or hued with the essence of patriarchy.

  • Read the full text of “Bequest” here along with the analysis section.
Analysis of Bequest by Eunice de Souza


Summary

“Bequest” is a poem about passing down a woman’s true emotions to their so-called other halves for the sake of standards or floating along with the flow of conventions. Through this piece, de Souza reveals how a woman speaker’s mindset is shaped, revised, and amended from an early age. The way she learns everything naturally is also monitored to shape her mind according to the patriarchal structure. She used to think showing one’s true emotions is symbolically portrayed by the image of Christ holding his heart. But, she tried to follow the same, society made her follow the standards. Finally, as a grown-up woman, she thinks she is like a “plastic flower”, devoid of truthfulness, selfhood, and most importantly her true identity.

Structure & Form

Eunice’s poem “Bequest” consists of five stanzas with irregular line count. There are a total of 21 lines that do not follow a set rhyming pattern or meter. So, it is a free verse poem. It is written from the perspective of a female speaker in first-person. Therefore it is also an example of a lyric poem. The lyrical quality of the poem is present in its internally rhyming lines. de Souza creates this internal rhyming by using the repetition of similar sounds between the lines. Besides, the form aptly adheres to the scheme of confessional poetry.

Poetic Devices

In “Bequest”, Eunice uses the following literary devices that make her feministic ideas more forceful and emotive.

  • Irony: It is used in the fourth line of the poem “I used to think, ugh.” Here, the speaker’s disgust with the image of Christ is portrayed even though she was a Catholic. 
  • Sarcasm: This device is used in the second stanza where the speaker talks about her open-minded attitude.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “stern standards”, “he hands”, “Wise Woman”, “time to”, etc.
  • Allusion: There is an allusion to Christ’s sayings in the lines “He says, take it as it comes” and “saying Child, learn from me”.
  • Simile: It is used in the following lines: “He says take it as it comes”, “smiling endlessly, vacuously/ like a plastic flower”, and “bequeath the heart, like a/ spare kidney”.
  • Metaphor: In the first stanza, the image of Christ holding his heart is a metaphorical reference (or allusion) to Christ’s sacrifice for mankind as well as his passion. In the last line, the term “enemy” is a metaphor for a patriarchal person.


Themes

The important themes of “Bequest” are patriarchy, feminine identity, womanhood, and convention vs individualism. de Souza, being a feminist poet, explores the nuances of conventional, patriarchal society and its impact on a woman’s mind. She writes this piece from the perspective of a speaker whose mind is shaped from an early age. The patriarchal society has made her change her openness and truthfulness in order to be a “Wise Woman”. Now, her smile does not reflect the true happiness of her heart. Rather it shows the fakeness of her emotions. In the last lines, she says that she has only her heart to bequeath to her partner as a form of sacrifice.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

In every Catholic home there’s a picture

of Christ holding his bleeding heart

in his hand.

I used to think, ugh.

The poem “Bequest” begins with an idea that is similar to the overall theme of the poem, sacrificing oneself. de Souza presents a cliche image of Christ holding his bleeding heart out in his hand. This image has two facades. Firstly, it is a religious symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and passion. On the other hand, it portrays the speaker’s bleeding heart inflicted by the norms of patriarchy.

When the speaker (Eunice de Souza’s poetic self) was a child, she felt a bit disgusted and disturbed after looking at the bloody heart of Christ.  The expression “ugh” reflects this sense of disgust. However, the situational irony of the poem is that while growing up, she becomes used to this metaphorically bloody side of patriarchy.

Lines 5-7

The only person with whom

I have not exchanged confidences

is my hairdresser.

The second stanza makes it clear that the poet interpreted this image of Christ differently. She sees it as a symbol of openness and truthfulness. Holding one’s heart out to someone is a symbolic gesture of being true to others. It means Christ holds out his true emotions to the world.

The speaker learned this idea from this image. So, she remained true to everyone. There is no fear in revealing her true self to others. However, there is only one exception. According to the speaker, the “only” person she has not exchanged confidences with is her hairdresser. In this line, the poet uses two poetic devices. One is sarcasm and another is an anticlimax. The idea of a “hairdresser” sounds astonishing as readers have expected something else. In this way, the poet depicts what kind of a girl she was.

Lines 8-11

Some recommend stern standards.

Others say float along.

He says, take it as it comes,

meaning, of course, as he hands it out.

But, society did not allow her to be herself. Some recommended following the “stern standards” of the conventional society. Here, the term “stern” infers the unrelenting and authoritarian side of patriarchy.

Some of them told her to float along with other women. In this line, the poet uses a metaphor for floating downstream. So, the stream stands for the patriarchal standards. In order to belong to this society, she has to float along, not knowing where this stream will lead her.

The following lines allude to the saying of Christ. In his testament to mankind, Christ advised humans to accept whatever comes their way. They have to always be ready for the things that the creator sends them, be it good or bad. Furthermore, the speaker emphasizes the fact by using the expression “of course”. It seems that the poet is depicting Christ as a symbol of patriarchy in these lines.

Lines 12-16

I wish I could be a

Wise Woman

smiling endlessly, vacuously

like a plastic flower,

saying Child, learn from me.

In the fourth stanza of “Bequest”, the speaker expresses her wish to be a “Wise Woman”. Who is a “Wise Woman” from society’s point of view? A woman who knows only the art of smiling, not the art of being self-satisfied, is the one who is “Wise”. She is “Wise” as she has taken the deliberate decision of accepting the norms unquestionably. Otherwise, everyone knows what would have happened with her.

Now, the speaker’s smile reflects a sense of fakeness. No matter whether her heart is devoid of happiness or not, she has to keep smiling in order to hide her old, mental scars.

In the following lines, the poet uses a simile to compare two distinct ideas, a plastic flower and the smile of the speaker. A plastic flower is an imitation of reality, empty of the spontaneity of life. Likewise, now the speaker is devoid of the emotions that make a human, “human”.

In the manner of Christ, now she teaches the art of heartless smiling to her child. What else could she teach her future generation whose real self is crushed at an early age?

Lines 17-21

It’s time to perform an act of charity

to myself,

bequeath the heart, like a

spare kidney –

preferably to an enemy.

In the final stanza of “Bequest”, de Souza’s speaker ironically says that she is going to perform an “act of charity” like Christ accepted crucifixion for the sake of humankind. But, the speaker is performing a sacrifice not for others, but for redeeming herself from her mental sufferings.

She bequeaths her heart. By using a simile, she compares her heart to a “spare kidney”. In this way, she decreases the value of the most important organ of the body, to an inferior one. It is important to note the meaning behind the term “heart”.

It is used as a metonym for emotions. Eunice’s speaker tries to sacrifice her heart to relieve herself from the pain it constantly causing. The longer it is in her body the more she will feel pain. It will keep reminding her of her mental sufferings for being a woman in a patriarchal society.

It is not that a woman suffers for what others say about her. She suffers most for what her close ones say. Hence, the speaker prefers to bequeath her heart to an enemy, rather than a friend.

Context

“Bequest” appears in Eunice de Souza’s best-known poetry collection Ways of Belonging. It was published in 1990. Her other notable works include Women in Dutch Painting, My Words, and Learn From The Almond Leaf. de Souza was a Goan poet whose works portray patriarchy in Indian society and issues of Indian women. In the poem “Bequest”, she takes a similar stance as Kamala Das took in her poem “An Introduction” to throw light on the effect of social conventions and patriarchal standards on a woman’s mind. She describes how patriarchy reigns in every sphere, be it religion, society, or one’s family.

FAQs

What does the speaker bequeath in the poem “Bequest”?

In Eunice de Souza’s poem “Bequest”, the speaker wishes to perform a sacrifice to redeem herself from her sufferings. In order to do so, she bequeaths her heart, the source of her emotional turbulence, to preferably an enemy.

Why does the speaker smile endlessly and vacuously?

The speaker smiles in this manner to hide her true emotions. Firstly, she smiles “endlessly” as her face has now turned into a showpiece like a plastic flower. Secondly, she smiles “vacuously” as her heart is devoid of real emotions.

When was “Bequest” by Eunice de Souza published?

The poem was first published in 1990. It appears in de Souza’s poetry collection Ways of Belonging.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

The speaker of this piece is none other than the poet Eunice de Souza herself. She talks in this poem through her poetic persona.

What is the theme of the poem “Bequest”?

This piece taps on the themes of patriarchy, convention vs individualism, womanhood, and mental suffering.


External Resources


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