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Advice to a Teenage Daughter by Isobel Thrilling

“Advice to a Teenage Daughter” is an instructive poem written by English poet Isobel Thrilling. It’s a piece of a mother’s advice to her teenage daughter about the trials of love and the complexities of human behavior. Youth is really an impressionable age. At this critical juncture, a boy or girl blossoms, at the same time, comes in contact with the complex adult world. They nurture the idea of a relationship encompassing only physical appeal. In this poem, the depiction of love based on exterior looks is similar to Alexander Pope’s depiction in the mock-epic The Rape of the Lock. Both pieces portray love as a “war-game”. Like war, teenagers devise strategies of advance and defense to impress. However, fighting a war that is in itself futile may lead them to heartbreak and depression. That’s why the guiding voice advises teens to think before they arm themselves prior to the “war-game” of “Love”.

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Advice to a Teenage Daughter
by Isobel Thrilling

You have found a new war-game
called Love.
Here on your dressing-table
stand arrayed
brave ranks of lipsticks
brandishing
swords of cherry pink and flame.
Behold the miniature armies
of little jars
packed with the scented
dynamite of flowers.
See the dreaded tweezers;
tiny pots
of manufactured moonlight,
stick-on stars.

Beware my sweet;
conquest may seem easy
but you can’t compete with football,
motor cycles, cars,
cricket, computer-games,
or a plate of chips.
Analysis of Advice to a Teenage Daughter by Isobel Thrilling


Summary

Isobel Thrilling’s poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” talks about the strategies teenage girls employ to please or gain boys’ attention. When one girl hits puberty, the need to appear attractive to her potential partner seems necessary. It may seem harmless as everyone goes through this stage once. However, it can also turn dangerous when unchecked obsession grips one hard.

In the first stanza, the speaker (mother) looks at her teenage daughter’s dressing table and finds different makeup products. She knows what they are for. Therefore, she tries to warn her daughter that boys like football, motorcycles, and other stereotypically “masculine” stuff more than their made-up appearance. She does not want her daughter to be hurt if a boy pays her no attention for his vocations.

According to Thrilling, love may seem like an easy “conquest”. In reality, it is not. That’s why the mother advises her daughter regarding the world of paradoxes she’ll soon encounter.

Meaning

“Advice to a Teenage Daughter” is about a mother who comes to know that her daughter has found “Love,” a new “war-game.” She has an urge to impress boys desperately. This worries the speaker as love among teenagers is complicated. Understanding the true definition of love is not that simple, especially at a young age when children slowly grow into adults and get to know more about themselves and others.

In this poem, the speaker describes love as a “war-game,” an act that requires specific strategies. Thus, the makeup products at the dressing table are described as armaments. Besides, this poem taps on a conventional, stereotyped aspect of gender roles. Thrilling describes how boys are interested in sports, cars, games, and, ironically, “a plate of chips,” while girls are interested in lipsticks, perfumes, tweezers, and instant-glow make-up products.

Structure & Form

“Advice to a Teenage Daughter” comprises a total of twenty-one lines, grouped into two stanzas of fifteen and six lines each. It is a free-verse instructional poem where the speaker, a mother, addresses her teenage daughter from the second-person point of view. Her experienced outlook upon love and human behavior provides her with the knowledge that her daughter does not have. Therefore, this poem is both a piece of advice and a note of warning. There is no set rhyme scheme or meter. While reading the text, it seems the daughter is present in the scene as a mute listener. Thus, this poem also sounds like a dramatic monologue.

Literary Devices & Poetic Techniques

Thrilling uses a number of poetic techniques in order to satirize the love in teenagers as a game of war and intensify the effect of her warning on teenage readers. The important literary devices of “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” include:

Metaphor

An extended metaphor is a type of conceit or sustained metaphor used at length throughout the poem. Thrilling draws an analogy between war and love in this poem. Love is compared to a “war-game” that necessitates due course of planning and preparation in teenagers. Girls and boys are put on opposite sides where both do not understand the other. Therefore, miscommunications and heartbreaks ensue.

In order to establish this metaphor, Thrilling uses war metaphors, such as “brave ranks of lipsticks,” “swords of cherry pink and flame,” “miniature armies/ of little jars,” “scented/ dynamite of flowers,” “dreaded tweezers,” and “manufactured moonlight.” In comparison, the boys’ weapons include “football,” “motor cycles,” “cars,” “plate of chips,” etc. According to the speaker, girls’ brandishing make-ups cannot “compete” with the boys’ vocations.

Enjambment

Thrilling uses this device throughout the text in order to create a sustained tension as if her speaker is narrating a preparation for war. For instance, the first two lines are enjambed. The word “Love” occurring at the end of the second line creates a shocking effect. Enjambment also occurs in the following lines:

  • Lines 3-7
  • Lines 8-11
  • Lines 13-14
  • Lines 17-21

Hyperbole

Thrilling uses intended exaggerations in order to create an ironic effect. This entire poem can be thought of as a use of hyperbole because comparing “Love” to something as devastating as war is an intentional exaggeration meant to emphasize how teenagers think. Moreover, the phrases “brave ranks of lipsticks,” “dynamite of flowers,” “dreaded tweezers,” etc., exaggerate the products as war weaponry.

Personification

Personification occurs when inanimate objects are injected with life. For instance, the speaker personifies the “lipsticks” as soldiers arrayed in lines. The perfume jars are compared to “miniature armies”.

Alliteration

The repetition of the same sound at the beginning of neighboring words can be found in the following instances:

  • To a Teenage” (Title)
  • the dreaded” (line 12)
  • manufactured moonlight” (line 14)
  • stick-on stars” (line 15)
  • can’t compete” (line 18)
  • cars,/ cricket, computer-games” (lines 19-20)


Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-2

You have found a new war-game

called Love.

Isobel Thrilling’s poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” begins with a mother’s address to her daughter. The speaker says that leaving behind the toys of childhood, her daughter has picked up a new game, “called Love.” It is unlike her childhood games, as there is an urgency like she is going to fight a war to assert her early femininity.

As teenagers, girls are not aware of either the real definition of beauty or love. Thus they are attracted by all that is superficial, easy-to-obtain, and quick. Putting on make-up to look “attractive” and “accepted” is what hovers in their minds. Thus, to maintain their physical “appeal,” they have to be war-ready. The gamification of a thing as pure as love ironically hints at how the human mind works when hormones gush through the mind’s garden, and the first spring occurs (adolescence).

Lines 3-7

Here on your dressing-table

stand arrayed

brave ranks of lipsticks

brandishing

swords of cherry pink and flame.

In these lines, the speaker points at her daughter’s dressing table. The lines read similar to the toilet scene in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. In the mock-epic, Pope describes Belinda’s toilet (dressing table) as a rack containing weapons to fight the love war:

And now, unveil'd, the toilet stands display'd,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.
First, rob'd in white, the nymph intent adores
With head uncover'd, the cosmetic pow'rs.
A heav'nly image in the glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears;
…
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The tortoise here and elephant unite,
Transform'd to combs, the speckled and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens ev'ry grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling care;
These set the head, and those divide the hair,
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown;
And Betty's prais'd for labours not her own.

- from The Rape of the Lock: Canto 1, lines 121-148

Thrilling uses a similar poetic technique to heighten the extended metaphor. It sounds like the daughter is preparing for a coming war. Her dressing table is like an army ground where war preparations are made. The lipsticks are compared to soldiers brandishing their “swords,” made of “cherry pink” and “flame” colors. By using these warm colors, girls try to make their lips look more iconic and attractive.

In these lines, Thrilling uses the consonance of the “b” and “d” sounds. Besides, the reference to the pink and orange (“flame”) colors hint at how girls take up their gender roles from an early age. They grow fond of these stereotypical colors in order to look more girlish, thus more suitable to be accepted by boys. The fear of being left out or unaccepted makes them be always war-ready in matters of looks and love.

Lines 8-15

Behold the miniature armies

of little jars

packed with the scented

dynamite of flowers.

See the dreaded tweezers;

tiny pots

of manufactured moonlight,

stick-on stars.

Then comes the little jars of perfumes that are compared to “miniature armies” lining up on the battlefield. Soldiers have a raging sense of nationalism in their hearts; likewise, the perfume jars contain “dynamite of flowers.” Besides, the term “dynamite” also hints at the intense aroma of the perfumes girls use. Not only through the visual aspect, they want to catch boys’ attention but also want to grasp their olfactory senses. Like explosives, the strong smell (intensity) of the perfumes can only be sensed when applied.

In the following line, the speaker points at the tweezers as “dreaded” weapons of war. The usage of the words like “Behold” in line 8 and “See” in line 12 sounds like the speaker is in awe of the products arrayed on her daughter’s dressing table. Her “tweezers,” which is a small piece of beauty equipment made of two narrow metal strips joined at the end used to pull out hairs, appear dreadful to the speaker. She knows how much pain she has to bear in order just to shape her eyebrows. She may bleed, but it’s war! And everything is fair in the game of war.

The daughter owns several tiny pots of “manufactured moonlight.” This phrase contains an oxymoron as “moonlight,” which is natural, is said to be “manufactured.” It is a reference to the make-up products that girls use to glow artificially. There are stick-on stars to complement her lofty visage. It seems the speaker is not describing her face but the night sky with the moon and stars. These lines contain sarcasm, another poetic device alongside irony. According to the speaker, her girl will put on this beautifying weaponry to win boys’ hearts.

Lines 16-21

Beware my sweet;

conquest may seem easy

but you can’t compete with football,

motor cycles, cars,

cricket, computer-games,

or a plate of chips.

In the second stanza of “Advice to a Teenage Daughter,” the speaker discontinues the depiction of her daughter’s dressing table and warns her daughter, who is newly stepped into the war-game of Love. In this war, the “conquest” of boys’ eyes may seem easy but to win their “hearts” is tricky. Like girls, boys have their own vocations. They are more interested in the games of football and cricket, motorcycles and cars, and computer games. While girls spend their time looking attractive, boys spend theirs watching their favorite show with a plate of chips.

The phrase “a plate of chips” at the end of the series of items creates a shocking effect in readers’ minds. It is a use of antithesis where a trivial idea is placed at the end of a series of ideas ascended according to their order of importance.

According to the speaker, boys might not pay much attention to girls as they will soon forget why they liked them firsthand and enjoy their time as they did before. This might lead to heartbreak and depression. Out of love and concern, the mother advises her daughter to be aware and remain on her guard while on such love quests.

Themes

Teenage Love

The speaker of “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” has experienced the world; she knows just how complex human behavior is. As a girl hits puberty, she becomes interested in boys. Since they are starting out for the first time, they are bound to make mistakes. Firstly, they don’t understand the true meaning of love or beauty. They just imitate what other teenage girls do, not even questioning once. That’s why the mother warns her daughter from her own experience. She loves her daughter and always wants the best for her. Thus, she advises her to think before stepping into the “war-game,” a teenage version of infatuation mistaken to be love.

Gender Roles

Society has laid up conventions for males and females that must be followed from as early as their teenage years. As they are less mature, they lack critical abilities. Hence, they take up their gender roles: girls invest their time to attract boys while the other half remains busy in their boyish vocations. In this way, Thrilling depicts how the conventional gender roles are not conducive to creating an equal relationship. These conventions are chalked to subdue girls and keep them busy in futile actions. In contrast, boys are supported to become the most significant segment of society.

Beauty & Looks

This poem also explores the theme of beauty and looks. The speaker describes how her daughter, being ignorant of the true meaning of beauty, blindly follows the trend in order to look beautiful, but artificially. She specifically focuses on the make-ups that are used for this purpose and portrays them as weapons of war. It seems as if the girl is not preparing to impress boys only but to win their hearts with her looks. However, it is not possible, as boys have other vocations too.

Tone

In the first stanza of “Advice to a Teenage Daughter,” the tone is tender, didactic, and ironic. While the speaker describes items on her daughter’s dressing table, her tone reflects a sense of awe and wonder at the range of products. In the second stanza, the tone becomes strict, at the same time, kind as she addresses her daughter, “Beware my sweet.” The love the speaker has for her daughter shines through the lines, but the strictness remains because she tries to warn her and make her more aware of the world and the games humans play. As readers progress to the last lines, the tone turns humorous and sarcastic.

Historical Context

The poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” is written by 20th-century English poet Isobel Thrilling. It’s a piece of personal advice from a 21st-century mother (Isobel Thrilling) to her teenage daughter. This didactic poem has a universal appeal because historically, humans have suffered often in love due to their illusions. Love, in the modern world, is a “game” humans play, some unintentionally and some intentionally. It’s didactic in tone as it contains motherly advice to teenagers who have stepped into the “war-game” of love. Besides, the depiction of the daughter’s dressing table echoes Pope’s description of Belinda’s toilet in the 18th-century mock-epic The Rape of the Lock: Canto 1, lines 121-148.

Questions & Answers

What is the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” about?

Isobel Thrilling’s poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” is about a mother’s piece of warning to her young daughter about the dangers in the game of teenage love. She warns her daughter to be cautious of boys as they have other vocations to follow. At one point, they will forget about the superficial looks of girls and move on.

Analyze the language of the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”.

The language of “Advice to a Teenage Daughter” is colloquial and emotive as it is written from a mother’s point of view. Thrilling’s speaker warns her daughter to be aware of love’s “war-game” she wants to play. There are some terms like “brandishing” and “Behold” that bring an archaic taste to the poem. Such words are used to trivialize the products on the girl’s dressing table. Furthermore, militaristic terms such as “brave ranks,” “swords,” and “miniature armies” create a sense of urgency and importance. Such language is used to create an ironic effect.

What is the impression of the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”?

Primarily, the poem evokes sustained humor that heightens when readers dive into the intricacies of the text. The laughter, in teenage readers’ case, does not come from the representation of the daughter in the poem. Rather, it comes from self-realization that they too commit such foolish tasks in order to look appealing to the opposite gender.

What is “manufactured moonlight”?

The term “manufactured moonlight” is an oxymoron where two contrasting ideas (artificial and natural) are juxtaposed to create irony. It is a metaphorical reference to the products that girls apply to glow artificially. The speaker satirically describes the skin-care-product induced glow to that of the moonlight.

Where is the turning point in the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”? Is there regularity in the line length?

The turning point or volta occurs in the second stanza of the poem, where the speaker warns her sweet daughter.

There is no regularity in line length as such. In the first stanza, the length increases and then decreases. While in the second stanza, the length gradually increases and then ends with lines having somewhat a regular length.

What are three dominant images from the beginning/middle/end of the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”?

The first dominant image at the beginning of the poem is the “dressing-table” of the daughter, where several lipsticks are arranged in order. In the middle, the image of the perfume jars becomes dominant. The poem ends with a series of images that boys like. Among them, the “plate of chips” becomes dominant.

What are some militaristic metaphors in “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”?

The militaristic metaphors used in the poem include “brave ranks of lipsticks,” “brandishing/ swords of cherry pink and flame,” “miniature armies/ of little jars,” “dynamite of flowers,” and “dreaded tweezers.” It is important to note how Thrilling uses war metaphors from the past (swords) and the present (dynamite). She does so to hint at the fact that teenage girls from both periods follow the same tradition of dressing up.

Does the make-up seem to empower the teenage girl? Or does it appear to be uncomfortable?

The make-up seems to empower the teenage girl as she does so in an elaborate fashion, with following each step like part of a religious ritual. In reality, make-up undermines her actual worth or beauty of the girls. Rather than feeling truly empowered, the fear of being left out lingers in their hearts.

Make-up does never appear comfortable. The “manufactured” beauty is always painful. In the poem, the “dreaded tweezers” hint at the pain a girl undergoes to just shape her eyebrows. Her brows bleed, yet she has to look tidy as love is like a war for her.

Does Thrilling present love as an empowering thing in the poem “Advice to a Teenage Daughter”?

Thrilling presents love in teenagers in a satirical fashion. She portrays it as a “war-game” and depicts the products used by girls in a humorous fashion. According to the speaker, her daughter cannot compete with what boys truly die for. It may seem the “conquest” of a boy’s heart is easy. However, controlling his heart for a long time just with looks is an impossible task as physical beauty fades with time. Therefore, Thrilling hints at the importance of emotional love that is genuinely empowering rather than elusive physical love.


Similar Poems with Life Lessons

  • Advice to Women” by Eunice de Souza — It’s a short pithy poem about the “otherness” of men.
  • Fear” by Gabriela Mistral — This piece is about a mother’s fear concerning her daughter’s future.
  • Friends” by Abbie Farwell Brown — This poem depicts nature as a true friend of children who fear being left out.
  • I cannot live with You” by Emily Dickinson — In this memorable lyric, the speaker describes why she cannot live, die, or rise to heaven with her lover.
  • Pretty Ugly” by Abdullah Shoaib — This reverse poem is about the true definition of beauty that empowers us.


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