The Photograph

by Shirley Toulson

 

About the Poet

 

  • Shirley Toulson

  • Born – May 20, 1924 England

  • She is an editor of teacher, editor of child education and teacher of creative writing for adults.

  • Notable works. –

                                1) Shadows in an Orchard – 1960

                                2) For a Double Time – 1970

                                3) The Dovers – 1980

 

Short Synopsis

 

A photograph describes 3 stages. In the first stage, the photograph shows the poet's mother standing at the each enjoying her holiday with her two girl cousins. She was 12 or so at that time. The second stage takes us twenty or thirty years later. The mother would laugh at the way she and her cousins Betty and Dolly were dressed up for each holiday. In the third stage, the poet remembers the mother with a heavy heart. The photograph revives a nostalgic feeling in the poet.
 

Brief Summary

 

The poet is looking at her mother's photograph which is indeed an old one. With it she can see how her mother looked when she was a little girl of twelve. The photo shows her on a beach with her two girl cousins who are younger than her, holding her hand. It might have been windy at that time that their hair was flying on their faces when the uncle took the photograph. All the three as smiling through their flying hair. Looking at the photograph, the poet says that her mother had a sweet face, but it was a time before the poet was born. The sea was washing their feet. The poet says that the sea has changed only a little, but change has come about who's feet it was washing.
                    

After 30 or 40 years, the mother would take out the photograph and take a look at it. By that time, she was married and had a daughter. She would laugh a little and says, "Look at Betty and Dolly, see how they have dressed for the beach". By now, she can only remember those days. A huge change has come about her and she is no longer that small innocent girl of twelve.
                                     

After some years, the poet's mother dies. Now the poet remembers her mother's laughter, for her it is a thing of past.
That's why she says, "the sea holiday as her past and mine is her laughter". Because just like the mother remembers her old days, now the poet can remember her in that way only. However, in course of time, the two of them learnt to live with their losses. The pay of the losses had made a permanent impression in their wry faces. The poet says that her mother had been dead an
d no she feels herself in a situation that there is nothing to be said about but only emptiness. The silence of this situation silences her. In other words, she is left speechless. The fate has killed all the feelings in her.

 

A photograph – “An embodiment of time and timelessness”

     Shirley Toulson’s ‘A Photograph` unfolds the very tenet of “Time – and Timelessness”. The poem strongly hints at the eternal state of the natural being and ephemeral state of the humans. Here we are acquainted with a picture of sea beach and three girls including the poet’s mother. Sea rarely changed but the mother of the poet met the horns of death.

 

A Photograph – ‘A melancholic poem`

 

     A photograph is melancholic to the utmost. We are acquainted here about loss, pain, and separation. The smiling photograph creates a pang in the heart of the poet as she remembers and misses her mother with a doleful heart. The absence of her mother in her life has made her life a gloomy one.

 

‘A Photograph`- ‘A Nostalgic poem`

 

     If nostalgia describes sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations, then ‘A photograph` is a nostalgic poem. We find the poet to acquaint us with past happy moments related to her mother’s childhood and happy days.

LINE BY LINE – EXPLANATION

 

 

“The cardboard shows me how it was

When the two girl cousins went paddling”

 

     Here the word the cardboard presents an allusion. The cardboard with the photograph shows the transient state of the humans. The poet tells us about the photograph where her mother and her two cousins are on the beach paddling.

 

“Each one holding one of my mother’s hands, 

And she the big girl - some twelve years or so. “

 

     Here in the picture mother is in the middle of other two cousins. Each of them is holding the hands of the poet’s mother. They are joyous and in holiday mood. Of the three, poet’s mother is the bigger one aging twelve years or so.

 

“All three stood still to smile through their hair

      At the uncle with the camera.”

 

     All the three girls are presented with innocuous picture where they are facing towards the camera with a smiling face through their hair. They have their uncle with the camera taking the snapshot.

 

Poetic device in use –

 

1) Stood still – Alliteration

2) Through their – Alliteration

 

 

, ………………………., A sweet face

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

 

     The poet narrates the face of her mother to be a sweet one. The poet reminds us about the time gap and asserts that the picture was taken before her birth.

 

Poetic Device in use –

 

1) My mother’s – Alliteration.

 

“And the sea, which appears to have changed less

 Washed their terribly transient feet.”

 

     The poet comments the less changing of the sea which reflects the eternal state of the natural elements and at the same time hints at the transient state of the humans. Then the poet acquaints us with terribly transient feet meaning the temporary state of the humans.

 

Poetic Devices in use –

 

1) Terribly transient – Alliteration

2) Terribly transient – Transferred Epithet.

 

“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.” 

 

     Twenty- thirty years after the picture was clicked, Mother would have laughed at the picture and said meaning betty and Dolly about their awkwardly dressing for the beach. It shows mother’s being nostalgic about the past.

 

Poetic Devices in use –

 

1) Twenty thirty – Alliteration.

 

 

........................................the sea holiday

Was her past, mine is her laughter. Booth wry

with the laboured ease of loss.”

 

     A feeling of pain is presented here. The poet states that for the mother the happy sea holidays are past and for the poet her mother’s laughter is past. Here both are feeling the loss on both parts.

 

Poetic Device in use-

 

1) Laboured ease – Oxymoron.

 

“Now she’s has been dead nearly as many years

 As that girl lived. And of this circumstance

 There is nothing to say at all,”

 

     The poet here acquaints that that girl i.e. her mother has been dead as many years as she had lived. And how the circumstance which is melancholic and hopeless one and the situation made the poet speechless. Her pain kept her silent.

“Its silence silences”.

 

     The silence that is created because of the death of her mother made her completely silent leaving her in utter pain.

 

Poetic Device in use-

 

Alliteration- silence silences

 

TEXTUAL QUESTIONS

THINK IT OUT
 

Question 1. What does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?
Answer: The word ‘cardboard’ in the poem refers to the photograph of the poet’s mother enjoying a sea-holiday with her two cousins when she was twelve years old.

The cardboard stands for the frame that supports and holds the photograph. It signifies that life is transient and what remains is an insignificant piece of paper.

Question 2. What has the camera captured?
Answer: The camera has captured some happy childhood moments of the poet’s mother when she has gone for a sea holiday with her two cousins Dolly and Betty. The girls were paddling in the water and enjoying the moment. The photograph clicked by the mother’s uncle shows the girls’ innocent smiling faces while their hair was flying over their faces.

 

Question 3. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?

Answer: Time has moved on, but what has not changed over the years is the sea. It is immortal. It appears to be the same today as it looked in the old photograph. It suggests the eternity of the sea. It also brings out the transient nature of man when compared to nature and its objects. The pretty faces and the feet of the three girls are ‘terribly transient’ or mortal when compared to the unchangeable and immortal sea.

 

Question 4. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What did this laugh indicate?
Answer: The poet’s mother was a girl of twelve or so when the photograph was taken. The photograph has captured the smiling face of the poet’s mother. She laughed in nostalgia at the snapshot that was taken years ago and also at the way all of them were dressed for the beach. She pointed it out to others. Perhaps they looked funny. This laugh indicated that the poet’s mother enjoyed remembering her childhood days, when she was young and free from the tensions and worries of adult life.

 

Question 5.What is the meaning of the line ‘Both wry with the laboured ease of loss.’
Answer: The context of the above lines is the mother’s recollection of her childhood days and the poet’s recollection of her mother’s laughing face. The mother had fond memories of her past but there was a sense of loss of the carefree childhood days. The poet’s loss referred to here is the loss of her mother through death and her smile. The memories in each case were beautiful, but painful to recall as time slipped away so easily.

 

Question 6. What does ‘this circumstance’ refer to?
Answer: ‘This circumstance’ refers to the death of the poet’s mother. Whenever she saw the photograph of her mother, she becomes sad as the photograph brings sad nostalgic feelings. She gets lost in the sweet old memories of the past. But she can’t do anything about it now. She has nothing to say at all about it. She maintains silence and this silence leads to a deeper pall. (cover) of silence.

 

Question 7. The three stanzas depict three different phases. What are they?
Answer: Shirley Toulson’s ‘A Photograph’ describes three phases in time.

In the first phase, the poet’s mother is described as a twelve-year-old girl with a sweet and innocent smile. She is standing on the beach enjoying a holiday with her two cousins — Dolly and Betty. This was the phase before the poet’s birth.

In the second phase, the poet’s mother’s middle age is described, where she is laughing at her own snapshot. Perhaps the girls were looking quite funny in the beach clothes.

The third phase describes the poet’s feelings for her mother, who has died many years ago. This is the current phase. The photograph revives nostalgic feelings in her and it leads to a deeper silence.

Extract based Questions and Answers

I. Read the extract given below and answer any two of the questions that follow.


“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.”

 

Question 1.What does the cardboard here refer to?
(a) A thick paper on which the poet’s photograph was pasted
(b) A thick envelope
(c) A thick paper on which the poet’s mother’s photograph was pasted
(d) A paper boat

 

Answer: (c) A thick paper on which the poet’s mother’s photograph was pasted

Question 2.What does the cardboard depict?
(a) It depicts a scenery
(b) It depicts the picture of a house
(c) It depicts the picture of a school
(d) It depicts the picture of three girls

 

Answer: (d) It depicts the picture of three girls

Question 3.Who is the ‘big girl’ mentioned here?
(a) The big girl is the poet herself
(b) The big girl is the poet’s mother
(c) The big girl is the poet’s relative
(d) The big girl is the poet’s friend

 

Answer: (b) The big girl is the poet’s mother

II. Read the extract given below and answer any two of the questions that follow.
 

“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.”

 

Question 1.What does the poet mean by ‘smile through their hair’?
(a) It means that a smile was painted on the hair of the photographed girls
(b) It means that the photographed girls were wearing a mask
(c) It means that the hair of the photographed girls were covering their face when they were smiling
(d) It means that the hair of the girls in the photograph was smiling too

 

Answer: (c) It means that the hair of the photographed girls were covering their face when they were smiling

Question 2. What has not changed over a period of time?
(a) The photo
(b) The cardboard
(c) The girls
(d) The sea

 

Answer: (d) The sea

 

Question 3. Find a word from the extract which means “lasting only for a short time”?
(a) Still
(b) Transient
(c) Changed
(d) Less

 

Answer: (b) Transient

 

III. Read the extract given below and answer any two of the questions that follow.


“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.”
 

Question 1.Why did ‘she’ laugh?
(a) Because of the funny dresses that they were wearing at the sea holiday
(b) Because one of them cracked a joke
(c) Because of the funny dresses they were wearing at the party
(d) Because of the funny man they saw at the sea holiday

 

Answer: (a) Because of the funny dresses that they were wearing at the sea holiday

 

Question 2. Who are Betty and Dolly?
(a) They are poet’s cousins
(b) They are poet’s friends
(c) They are poet’s mother’s friends
(d) They are poet’s mother’s cousins

 

Answer: (d) They are poet’s mother’s cousins

 

Question 3.…………. in the extract is the synonym of ‘photograph’.
(a) Snapshot
(b) Picture
(c) Mine
(d) Laboured

 

Answer: (a) Snapshot

IV. Read the extract given below and answer any two of the questions that follow.
 

“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.”

 

Question 1. Who does ‘she’ refer to?
(a) The poet’s dead aunt
(b) The poet’s dead mother
(c) The poet’s dead cousin
(d) The poet’s sister

 

Answer:(b) The poet’s dead mother

Question 2.Why is there nothing to say about the death of the poet’s mother?
(a) Because the poet is confused
(b) Because the poet was not in her senses when her mother expired
(c) Because the death of the poet’s mother has left a deep void in the poet’s heart
(d) Because the poet did not have a good relationship with her mother

 

Answer:(c) Because the death of the poet’s mother has left

 

Question 3. Which word in the extract means the same as “events that change your life, over which you have no control”?
(a) Silences
(b) Circumstances
(c) Situation
(d) Circumstance

 

Answer:(d) Circumstance

Short Questions and Answers

Question 1. The poet talks about a particular cardboard. How is it special to her?
Answer: The poet talks about a particular cardboard to which is pasted her mother’s photograph taken at the sea beach. The mother seems to have been enjoying her sea holiday. The photograph is special as she has lost her mother sometime back and looking at the photograph makes her happy as well as sad.

Question 2. What can you say about the childhood of the poet’s mother?
Answer: The childhood of the poet’s mother must have been filled with fun and happiness. This is clear from the snapshot of the sea holiday. They are enjoying their holiday.

The mother of the poet laughs when looking at the snapshot even after many years have passed since the sea holiday. All this shows us that it was a very pleasant childhood.

 

Question 3. What moment does the photograph depict?
Answer: The photograph clicked by. the uncle of the poet’s mother depicts a sea-holiday being enjoyed by the poet’s mother and her two cousins Dolly and Betty. They are full of smiles in their beach dresses, not worrying about their flying hair.

 

Question 4. Were the three cousins camera friendly? Who was taking their photograph?
Answer: The three cousins appear to be camera-friendly as they stood at the sea beach without moving when the uncle took the photograph.

 

Question 5. The poet’s mother would laugh looking at the photograph. Why?
Answer: The poet’s mother was in middle age when she looked at that photograph and used to laugh remembering those golden days of her childhood, enjoying a sea holiday. She would also laugh at the beach dresses which looked weird after many years.

 

Question 6. What impression do you form about the poet’s mother?
Answer: The poet’s mother was very pretty at the age of twelve. She enjoyed the sea holiday. This is indicated by the happiness that she gets in middle age after looking at her childhood photograph.

 

Question 7. The sea ‘appears to have changed less’ in comparison to the three girls who enjoyed the sea holiday. Comment.
Answer: The poet compares the mortal nature of human beings with the eternal nature of the sea or natural objects. With the passage of time, the poet’s mother died but the vast sea has remained as it was since the photograph was taken.

 

Question 8. Why does the poet feel nostalgic?
Answer: The poet sees an old photograph of her mother in which she was standing on the beach with her two cousins — Dolly and Betty. They were enjoying themselves. The photograph captured her mother’s sweet and smiling face. At that time, she was around twelve years old. The poet remembers how her mother used to laugh whenever she looked at that old photograph. But time has passed and now the poet has been left only with the memories of her mother. Thus, she feels nostalgic

 

Question 9. What does the poet say about her mother’s face?
Answer: The poet remarks that her mother had a sweet face, smiling and caring for her cousins who were younger to her. The poet also says that her mother used to enjoy these sea holidays, and would laugh heartily, later on when she saw the photograph.

 

Question 10. How does the poet react to her past? Why has she not mentioned anything about her mother’s death?
Answer: The poet remembers with sadness her mother’s laughter which she cannot hear any more. The poet is full of a sense of loss and does not mention about her mother’s death, as it may bring more gloom to her and make her speechless.

 

Question 11. Does the poet appear to be grieving?
Answer: The poet is certainly filled with a sense of loss. Her mother is long dead and though the poet has adjusted to her absence, she is not able to completely overcome her loss.

She remembers how it used to be when her mother was still with her. The last line is an apt depiction of her state of mind. The loss has filled her life with silence.

 

Question 12. Comment on the tone of the poem.
Answer: The tone of the poem is that of sadness. Shirley Toulson looks at an old photograph of her mother and is sadly reminded of her mother who is no more.

She mentions about death of her mother indirectly only, but this photograph has made her speechless and silent.

 

Long Questions and Answers

Question 1. The poet has paid a tribute to her mother. Similar instances can be seen in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’. This made you think that writing about a loved one is much better than building their statues or drawing their portraits. Comment.
Answer: Many writers have paid tributes to their loved ones through beautiful writing. Khushwant Singh gave an adorable description about his grandmother through his story. Shirley Toulson remembered her mother through her heart-touching poem.

In my opinion, writing about a loved one is much better than building their statues or drawing their portraits. One can never tell the true personality of a person just by looking at their sculptures or portraits. One can never know about the amazing time someone has spent with them. That magic can only be created by words.

Words stand the passage of time, whereas sculptures or portraits may get damaged by it. Hence, words are the best way by which anyone can pay a tribute to one’s loved ones.

Question 2. “Its silence silences,” writes Shirley Toulson. The loss of her mother has silenced her. Do you think that this attitude of the poet is the right attitude to live life? Why/ why not?
Answer: There is no doubt that Shirley Toulson has given a very touching tribute to her mother by remembering her through her verses. It is apparent that she is very much nostalgic and is grieving at the loss of her mother. Though she says that over the years she has adjusted to her mother’s absence, but circumstances have surely filled her with silence and a deep void.

We cannot deny that it hurts very much to lose someone, but the attitude shown by the poet at the end is not the right way to live your life. Life will keep going on even if we stop to lament our loss.

Loss is universal. It is the law of nature. We cannot let ourselves get depressed just because of this. It is also understandable that we will grieve. However, grieving to the point of hampering the normal functioning of our lives is not acceptable.

Question 3. Happy moments are short-lived but provide a lifetime memory. They provide a cushion to bear the difficulties which the future has in store for you. Comment in the light of the poem ‘A Photograph’ by Shirley Toulson.
Answer: Our life is a mixture of happy as well as adverse times. We must learn to move on with the help of those happy memories which provided us with so much enjoyment and happiness. As life is not a bed of roses, everyone at one stage or another is likely to face difficulties.

At the time of difficulties, happy moments can give us solace and fill us with positivity which is required during difficult times. Happy moments will certainly provide us with a hope that, as happy moments are short-lived, so are difficult times. One must learn to cope with the situation. The memories of happy times can provide us a cushion to bear difficulties with patience and peace.

Question 4. ‘Both wry with the laboured ease of loss.’ The poet is missing her mother. What is the role of the mother in forming the personality of a child?
Answer: A mother’s role in shaping the personality of a child is of paramount importance. The child watches his/ her mother intently and learns about the world and how to react to it at the initial stages. The mother can

play an important role by making the child to deal constructively with mistakes, forgive others, handle frustration, show kindness and share love.
When a mother is nurturing and caring the child, it will develop a healthy bond with not only the mother but will be willing to form new relationships with others.

Children and adults both want a sense of independence and autonomy. It is very important on a mother’s part to offer choices to the child. This makes the child feel that he/she is smart enough to make choices.

The mother’s thoughts nourish a child’s mind and soul as her personal attention nourishes a child’s body. She is a child’s first teacher. She tries to imbibe such values that may help a child lifelong.

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