Wednesday 14 February 2024

A Photograph


A Photograph

                                    By Shirley Toulson

 

Analysis of the poem : 

   The poem ‘A Photograph’ is composed by Shirley Toulson, a new age English poet, journalist and local politician.

§ The poem explores the passage of time, memory, and the enduring impact of loss through a memory captured in a photograph.

§  The poem discusses three different phases in poet’s life and only one of them shares active relation between the poet and her mother. This shift in time is one of the themes highlighting the transience of life and the inevitable changes that occur over the years.

§  The poem is subjective as it describes the emotions of the poet associated with her childhood and mother. It brings her childhood memories back and separation from her mother.

§  The poem is rich in language and profound in emotional content with the wonderful handling of words and expressions. It is free verse without any rhyming scheme.

§  The tone of the poem is melancholic as the poet feels sad recalling the day when her mother was there with her remembering her childhood.

§  One is clearly able to make out the theme of the poem that aging and death though are natural and unavoidable become scary and painful to accept.

§  The poem is a free verse without any rhyme scheme and meter.

§  This beautiful poem depicts a daughter-mother relation and fear of losing one’s relations.


Summary / Synopsis

§  "A Photograph" intricately weaves together themes of time, memory, nostalgia, and the complex emotions associated with the loss. The photograph serves as a poignant memory of the poet and her mother’s life.

§  The poem also describes deep impact of shared moments in their life through an image captured on a beach holiday.

§  Poet’s mother first laughs at funny dresses of the three girls on the holiday but later realises the loss of her childhood while the poet laments at the loss of her mother after death.

§  The poet feels that sea hasn’t changed while there has been profound change in both the poet’s life as well her mother’s.

§  The concluding lines contemplate the silence surrounding death. The speaker's mother has been dead for as many years as the girl in the photograph lived.

§  The poem suggests that there is a profound silence associated with death, a silence so powerful that it itself becomes an expression of the unutterable nature of loss.

 

Line by Line Explanation

The cardboard shows me how it was

When the two girl cousins went paddling,

Each one holding one of my mother’s hands,

And she the big girl — some twelve years or so.

All three stood still to smile through their hair

At the uncle with the camera. A sweet face,

My mother’s, that was before I was born.

And the sea, which appears to have changed less,

Washed their terribly transient feet.

 Explanation:

The poet is looking at a photograph framed in a cardboard, which serves as a memory of the past.

The photograph captures a moment when two female cousins of the poet’s mother were wading or playing in water with her. The cousins were holding hands with her mother, indicating a close and affectionate relationship.

The poet's mother is older or ‘big girl approximately twelve years old at the time of the photograph. The trio stopped moving and posed for the camera, smiling with their hair falling over their faces. They smiled at the uncle who was taking the photograph. The poet's mother had a sweet smiling face. The photograph captures a moment from a time before the poet was born.

The sea under their feet seems to have undergone almost no changes but the people in the photograph have changed drastically as they have grown old. The sea is described as washing the feet of the three girls, emphasising the transient and fleeting nature of life compared to ceaseless and perennial nature.

 

Some twenty — thirty — years later

She’d laugh at the snapshot. “See Betty

And Dolly,” she’d say, “and look how they

Dressed us for the beach.” The sea holiday

Was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry

With the laboured ease of loss.

 Explanation :

Twenty or thirty years have passed since the photograph was taken. The  mother later used to laugh with the Poet as she found the clothing and the dressing style of her cousins and herself funny on the day when she went out for the beach holiday. The mother mentioned her cousins, Betty and Dolly and laughed at their dresses as she felt that they looked funny in the dresses. The laugh of the mother is now a history, her past for the poet.

The beach vacation depicted in the photograph was her mother's past, while the speaker's own past is her mother's laughter as she is dead and the speaker misses her mother and her laughter.

The laughter of both the mother and the speaker is described as "wry" or bittersweet. Mother is sad as her childhood has gone and her carefree days of childhood are over which is a huge loss for her. The poet is in grief at the loss of her mother to death. There is a painful smile at poet's lips as she remembers her mother's laugh. This acceptance of loss is not effortless as it is extremely painful and difficult.

 

"Now she’s been dead nearly as many years

As that girl lived. And of this circumstance

There is nothing to say at all.

Its silence silences"

 Explanation :

The speaker's mother has been deceased for a similar length of time as the girl in the photograph had lived. At the time of the photograph the mother was twelve years old and it’s been same time after her death now when the poet is looking at the photograph and missing her mother. The speaker acknowledges the reality of death and the inability to find words to express the circumstance and her emotions at this emotional loss. Now, the girl in the photograph is silent and this silence is hurting her, troubling her.

The poem concludes with the tragic and unavoidable fate of a living soul that is death. The poet feels unable and incapable to express herself but this silence is troublesome and painful.  

Theme

The poem highlights the theme of impermanence and transience. The sea, which "appears to have changed less," becomes a symbol of permanence of nature in contrast to the fleeting nature of human life. The image of the sea washing their "terribly transient feet" conveys the loss of life against perennial sea. The poet also reflects that aging and death though are natural and unavoidable become scary and painful to accept.


Poetic Devices

Each one holding one of my mother’s hands – Repetition, Alliteration

And she the big girl — some twelve years or so – Alliteration

All three stood still to smile through their hair – Alliteration, Consonance  

At the uncle with the camera. A sweet face – Repetition

My mother’s, that was before I was born – Alliteration, Repetition

And the sea, which appears to have changed less,

Washed their terribly transient feet – Alliteration, Paradox, symbolism

Some twenty — thirty — years later - Assonance

She’d laugh at the snapshot. “See Betty – Alliteration, Apostrophe 

And Dolly,” she’d say, “and look how they – Repetition

Dressed us for the beach.” The sea holiday – Repetition,  Enjambment, Imagery

Was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry – Repetition, Consonance

With the laboured ease of loss – Alliteration, Oxymoron, Pathos  

Now she’s been dead nearly as many years – Alliteration

As that girl lived. And of this circumstance – Alliteration, Consonance

There is nothing to say at all – Assonance

Its silence silences – Alliteration, Assonance, Pathos  


Important Question Answers

Q1. What does the word cardboard denote in the poem?

Ans. In the poem the cardboard is referred to as the photograph of the poet and her cousins in which they are spending good time together on their beach holiday. This word has been used because carboard is impermanent and symbolised the temporary state of human life.

Q2. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?

Ans. The sea, which the poet refers in the poem has not changed much over the years. This suggests that the sea is an example of eternal nature which goes on flowing ceaselessly despite the fact that the poet's mother grew up, became old and died. It is presented as something perennial in contrast to the transitory nature of human life.

Q3. The three stanzas depict three phases, what are they?

Ans. In the first phase the poet depicts the scene of the beach where the poet's mother and siblings are enjoying beach holiday and posing while the photograph is being clicked by their uncle. In this phase mother's childhood is described.

During the second phase the poet's mother recalls her childhood and joyfully laughs while looking at the photograph. Now the poet's mother has grown up and is happy to live her past while sharing her memories with her daughter.

In the third phase poet laments the death of her mother. She tells that the beach holiday was her mother's past and her mother's laughter is her own past after her death.


RTC

The cardboard shows me how it was

When the two girl cousins went paddling,

Each one holding one of my mother’s hands,

And she the big girl

Q1. What does the card board refer to?

Q2. Where have the girls gone?

Q3. What does the card board show?

Q4. Which poetic device is predominantly used in these lines?

Q5. Who is 'the big girl'? How?


Answers : 

A1. The word 'card board' refers to the photograph of poet's mother and her two cousins. 

A2. The girls have gone to enjoy their beach holiday by the sea. 

A3. The card board holds a photograph which shows poet's mother enjoying a beach holiday with her two female cousins and the sea is also visible in the backdrop. The photograph was clicked by their uncle. 

A4. Imagery is predominantly used in these lines. 

A5. 'The big girl' is poet's mother as she is older than her cousins. She was around twelve years old, then.




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