Get here the summary, questions, answers, textbook solutions, extras, and pdf of the poem (Chapter 1) “A Photograph” by Shirley Toulson of the Assam Board (AHSEC / SEBA) Class 11 (first year) English (Hornbill) textbook. However, the given notes/solutions should only be used for references and should be modified/changed according to needs.
Summary/explanation: The poet examines a cardboard-framed photograph of her mother when she was twelve years old. She was seen on a beach with her two cousins, who were holding her hands. They were walking barefoot on the sea’s shallow water. They remained motionless in front of the camera as their uncle captured their happy expressions. This was many years before the poet’s birth. The photo demonstrates her mother’s sweetness. The sea’s constant waves washed their feet. This is also a symbol of nature’s permanence and the transience of human life. The sea hasn’t changed, but the feet have.
The photograph was taken about twenty or thirty years ago. The poet’s mother was now a twelve-year-old girl. She’d laugh every time she saw the photo and point out how she and her cousins, Betty and Dolly, had dressed up for the beach holiday. She described those moments as memories from her past. Her laughter, however, has now become a part of the poet’s past. Both of them had experienced a sense of loss at different points in their lives, which required some effort to overcome.
The poet’s mother has been dead for years. It’s been nearly the same number of years since she died. The poet is at a loss for words to express her feelings of emptiness. The situation’s silence has silenced her feelings.
Think it out.
1. What does the word “cardboard” denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?
Answer: The cardboard represents the sturdy sheet of paper that has protected the poet’s mother’s photograph. For the longest time, it was the standard method for preserving pictures in frames.
There are many symbolic meanings attributed to this word that emphasise the ephemeral nature of human life in comparison to the permanence of art. A long-dead girl of twelve, whose smiling face was preserved on cardboard, continued to bring joy to people for many years after her death.
2. What has the camera captured?
Answer: The camera caught the pretty young ladies enjoying themselves on their beach vacation. It has frozen in time an ephemeral moment that can evoke warm feelings of longing even years later.
3. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?
Answer: No matter how much time has passed, the ocean has remained the same. It highlights the transience of human existence in contrast to the enduring things of the natural world. The natural world will outlast any human civilization.
4. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What does this laugh indicate?
Answer: The poet’s mother’s childhood photo brought giggles from the poet’s mother. She went with her cousins, who walked beside her and held her hands. Together, they looked ready for a day at the beach. Some twenty- or thirty-years later, her laughter revealed her sentiment of nostalgia as she relived those times in her mind.
5. What is the meaning of the line “Both wry with the laboured ease of loss”?
Answer: Both mom and daughter have made peace with the deaths of loved ones, albeit at different times in their lives. The mother had to come to terms with the fact that her daughter’s childhood happiness would forever be frozen in a photograph. In the meantime, the poet’s daughter is trying to come to terms with the fact that the sound of her mother’s laughter is now just a fragment of her memory.
6. What does “this circumstance” refer to?
Answer: The poet’s life without her mother is the “this circumstance” she refers to. The poet feels a void in his life since her passing. She has trouble finding the right words.
7. The three stanzas depict three different phases. What are they?
Answer: The first stanza recounts a memory from the poet’s mother’s youth. During this initial stage, Mom is shown to be a young girl of 12 on a beach vacation with her two cousins.
The poet’s mother is a middle-aged woman in the second stanza, portraying a very different stage in life from the one depicted in the first. She chuckles at the photo of herself from her childhood, remembering all the fun she had. This stanza ends with the revelation that the woman has passed away.
The third section of the final stanza describes the poet’s inability to put into words her feelings in the face of death and the accompanying gloom.
Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions
1. What is the significance of the poem’s title, “A Photograph”?
Answer: It is an old photograph that inspires the poet’s reflective tone in “A Photograph,” hence the poem’s title. It’s a picture of her mother from when she was a child before she passed away.
5. When the poet writes, “The sea holiday was her past, mine is her laughter,” what does she mean?
Answer: The two parts of this sentence are separated by a vast amount of time. She would look at the picture whenever her mother was still around to remind her of when she was a little girl. She had once enjoyed a beach vacation, but she knew that it would never happen again. She thinks back on her mother’s amused reaction to the same photo from her childhood and is moved to write a poem about it. The poet will never be able to relive the moment when she heard that laughter.
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