A Photograph Poem Summary Analysis and Explanation by Shirley Toulson

A Photograph Poem Summary in English and Hindi Pdf. A Photograph is written by Shirley Toulson.

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A Photograph Poem Summary in English Line By Line Explanation by Shirley Toulson

About the Poet Shirley Toulson

Name Shirley Toulson
Born 20 May 1924, Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom
Died 15th May 2014
Education B.A Literature from Brockenhurst College in London
Books The Drovers, The Celtic Year a Celebration of Celtic Christian Saints Sites and Festivals More
Shirley Toulson - a photograph class 11 Line By Line Explanation
Shirley Toulson

A Photograph Central Idea of the Poem

Shirley Toulson’s poem ‘A Photograph’ is a tribute to her mother. The poem describes three stages in the passage of time. In the first stage, the photograph shows the poet’s mother standing at the beach enjoying her holiday with her two girl cousins. She was around 12 years old at that time. The second stage takes us twenty or thirty years later. The mother would laugh at the way she and her cousins were dressed up for the beach holiday. In the third stage, the poet remembers the dead mother with a heavy heart. The photograph revives a nostalgic feeling in the poet.

A Photograph Poem Summary in English

A Photograph Stanza Wise Explanation of The Poem

Stanza 1.
“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.”

Word Meanings:
cardboard – very stiff paperboard on which the photograph was pasted
paddling – walking through shallow water in bare feet
big girl – mother is referred to as the big girl as she was the eldest among the three girls

Explanation: An old photograph of the poet’s mother which was pasted on cardboard makes the poet recall the old memories of her mother’s childhood. The photograph is a depiction of her mother’s enjoyable moments at a sea-beach with her two cousins who were younger to her. They were walking in shallow water with bare feet near the beach. The mother was standing in the middle and holding hands of her two cousins, who were standing on each side. The poet’s mother was twelve years old then. It shows that the photograph was very old but the poet has kept it very carefully as it reminded her of sweet memories of her mother’s childhood. The photograph also indicates how enjoyable her mother’s childhood was.

Stanza 2.
“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.”

Word Meanings:
still – without moving or shaking
smile through – smiling faces could be seen through their hair which was flying over their faces
terribly – extremely
transient – temporary, lasting only for a short time

Explanation: The photograph shows that all three girls – the poet’s mother and her two cousins – stood still and smiled at the camera when their uncle clicked their photograph at the sea beach. As the weather was windy at that time, their hair was flying over their smiling faces. The expression on the faces of the poet’s mother and her cousins was that of happiness and enjoyment. The mother was looking very pretty at that time and the photograph was taken a long time ago.

Everything has changed since then, her mother grew up; now she was dead and the poet was reviving her memories. The only thing that has remained unchanged is the sea which was washing the feet of all three girls. The mention of the word ‘transient’ indicates the ever-changing lives of human beings as well as the shortness of their stay on this World, in contrast to the eternality of nature. The girls’ life changed drastically during this period but the sea has not changed. The stanza beautifully explains the transient nature of human beings.

Stanza 3.
“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.”

Word Meanings:
snapshot – photograph
dressed us – put on clothes
wry – disgusted
laboured – achieved after a lot of hard work, done with great effort
ease – comfort

Explanation: Even 20-30 years later the mother would look at the photograph and laugh nostalgically remembering the happy memories of her past. Mother would look at the photograph and comment on the dresses worn by the cousins Dolly, Betty and herself.

Sea holiday was her mother’s past and her mother’s laughter has become a thing of the past for the poet as her mother was now dead. The poet still remembers how her mother would laugh at the photograph remembering the sea-holiday with a fondness as well as a sense of loss because that time would never come back. In the same way poet feels nostalgic thinking about her mother and her laughter which has become a thing of the past.
The words ‘laboured’ and ‘ease’ are opposite to each other, but describe the same entity, loss.

Stanza 4.
“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.”

Word Meanings:
circumstance – situation
silences – make someone unable to speak

Explanation: The poet recalls that it is nearly twelve years since her mother died. The poet is consumed with grief but is left with no words to express her loss and pain. The poet is totally absorbed in memories of her dead mother. The painful silence of this situation leaves the poet speechless. The poet can feel the grief but is unable to express it through words. The silence caused by death makes the atmosphere gloomy, where no one is able to utter words.

A Photograph Poetic Devices Used in the Poem

Allusion: An allusion is a reference or an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication. An example of allusion in this poem is ‘cardboard’ which actually refers to the photograph.

Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the initial letter (generally a consonant) of several words marking the stressed syllable in a line of poem. Examples of alliteration in this poem are ‘stood still to smile’, ‘terribly transient’, ‘Its silence silences’ etc.

Transferred Epithet: A transferred epithet is a description that refers to a character or event but is used to describe a different situation or character. ‘Transient feet’ is an example of the transferred epithet in the poem. It refers to human feet but it is used to describe the lack of permanence of human life.

Oxymoron: In this literary device, there are two opposite ideas that are joined to create an effect. ‘Laboured ease’ in the poem is an example of an oxymoron. Laboured meaning with ‘great difficulty’ and ease means ‘comfortably’. Both words have opposite meanings but here they are clubbed together.

Personification: The example is ‘Its silence silences.’ The situation has been given the human quality of silence.

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