Saturday, 29 December 2012

PHOTOGRAPH BY SHIRLEY TOULSON


Shirley Toulson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in 1924, Toulson resides in Somerset and has worked as a teacher, editor and poetess. SHIRLEY TOULSON, who lives in Somerset, was drawn into the spell of Celtic Christianity as she worked on her books dealing with the oldest roads and folklore of Britain and Ireland, and found herself following the routes taken on their journeys by the saints of the early church.

SUMMARY
The poet looks at the photograph of her mother, which was taken when her mother was 12 years old. The mother had gone for a sea holiday with her cousins Betty and Dolly and while they were paddling, her uncle took a photograph of them.

Each of the cousins was holding the hands of the poet’s mother who was the eldest among them. All three of them stood smiling through their hair while the photo was taken. Her mother had a sweet face. All this happened before she was born.

Years fled past. Her mother grew up into an adult. They all underwent changes, while the sea stood still and seemed unaltered despite the passage of time. After about twenty or thirty years, the poet’s mother would look at the photograph, laughing nostalgically and remembering the past.

She would comment on the dress worn by her cousins Betty and Dolly and herself. The sea holiday belonged to the past of her mother and the poet still remembers how her mother would laugh looking at the snapshot.

The smile Shirley Toulson’s mother had on her face when she thought of her past (the sea holiday) and Shirley’s thoughts when she recalls her mother’s laughter, both, seem to be wry i.e. filled with dry or sad amusement for a time that was happier but cannot be re-lived.


For the poet, both these (the photograph and her memories of her mother) bring great sadness and an acute sense of loss. However, time has been a healer of sorts. Although the sense of loss that may never go away completely, with time, she has come to accept this eventuality of life.

She has been able to come to terms with her mother’s demise. Her mother died about 12 years ago and now, the poetess has nothing to say about this circumstance. It leaves her sad and yet at ease. It leaves her in pain, but with acceptance. The photograph is silent and leaves her silent as well.

The three stanzas depict three different phases. The first stanza refers to the childhood of the poet’s mother. The second stanza refers to the poet’s childhood when her mother was an adult. The last stanza refers to the poet’s adulthood when she is not with her mother.

LINE EXPLANATION
1) The cardboard (photograph) shows the narrator who it was that day (poetic device: allusion as the cardboard’s lack of durability hints at the lack of permanence of human life)

2) When two of her mother’s cousins went paddling (on the beach, with the narrator’s mother)
3) Each of the cousins held one of her mother’s hands.
4) Her mother was the eldest – about twelve years old at this time.
5) All three of them stood smiling, their hair strewn across their face (possibly tossed by the beach wind or water) (poetic device: alliteration... stood still to smile)
6) As her mother’s uncle clicked their picture with a camera. Her mother’s face was sweet
7) And the picture was taken much before the narrator was born.
8) The sea in the picture is still the same today (has changed very less)
9) And in the picture it seems to wash their feet which by nature, are transient because human life is short-lived as compared to nature. (Poetic device:
Transferred Epithet. Human life itself is temporary not the feet. When the adjective for one noun like life is transferred to another noun like feet, it is called transferred epithet. It is also alliteration due to the repetition of the ‘t’ sound but writing only alliteration as the poetic device will lead to a loss of marks)


10) Some twenty, thirty years later from when the picture was clicked,
11) her mother had looked at the snapshot and laughed. She had pointed out her cousin Betty and Dolly and talked nostalgically of how oddly they used to be dressed for the beach.
The sea holiday was remembered by her mother with a fondness as well as a sense of loss because that time would never return.

12) Similarly, her laughter would never return to the narrator. The sea holiday was the narrator’s mother’s past and her mother’s laughter is the narrator’s past.
13) Both these pasts, the sea holiday as well as the laughter of her mother are remembered with a difficult and yet easy sense of loss. (Poetic device:
oxymoron. The coming together of two opposite ideas to describe the same entity. ‘Laboured’ and ‘easy’ are opposite words describing the same entity ‘loss’. The loss of the holiday and the laughter was easy because these things have to be accepted as a part of life. They are merely a part of the past and cannot be brought back or relived. However, precisely because they cannot be relived, there will always be a tinge of difficulty letting them go completely. They will always be seen as loss.)

14) Now, it has been twelve years since her mother passed away. The girl in the photograph seems like a different person altogether. Thus, the use of the words, ‘that girl’.

15) And about the fact that her mother has passed away leaving behind nothing but memories and photographs like this one,

16) there is nothing to be said. It is a part of life and on thinking of it, one really has no words to express how one feels.

17) The silence of the whole situation silences the poet and leaves her quiet. (poetic device: alliteration and personification. The situation has been given the human quality of silence and the sound of ‘s’ has been repeated)
The camera thus managed to capture a moment in time. It kept the memory of the mother and for the mother alive. The sea holiday brought a sad smile (wry) to the mother’s face because she couldn’t relive it but was glad that she once had. Similarly, thinking of her mother’s laughter brought a sad smile to the poet’s face because although that laughter was now gone she was glad to have once had it in her life.

Nature is perennial while human life is temporary or transient. The poet uses a transferred epithet (terribly transient feet) in order to make this comparison and highlight the terribly short-lived life of her mother.

As in the Portrait of a Lady, this poem also deals with the theme of loss and bereavement and the impact it leaves on those who are left behind.

Reference to Context (RTC) questions:

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.

a. What does the cardboard refer to?
b. Who was the big girl and how old was she?
c. How did the cousins go paddling with mother?

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
a. Who does ‘all three’ refer to here?
b. Where are they now?
c. Why did they smile through their hair?

3...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.
a. Where was her mother?
b. When did this incident take place?
c. How is the poet able to remember her mother’s childhood?
d. What has stood the onslaught of time and what has not?



4. 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.”


a. Who would laugh at the snapshot after twenty – thirty years later?
b. How did mother remember her past?
c. Who were Betty and Dolly?

6. ...The sea holiday

was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry
With the laboured ease of loss
a. Who went for the sea holiday in the past?
b. What does ‘both’ refer to?
c. How does the poet feel when she remembers her mother?

7. 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,
Its silence silences.
a. How many years are over after the death of her mother?
b. What does ‘this circumstance’ refer to?
c. Why has the poet nothing to say about this circumstance?
d. What impact has the photograph on the poet?

Oxymoron – Are either literary effects designed to create a paradox/opposition of two parallel ideas, or deliberately added/created for humour. E.g. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Controlled chaos, Laboured ease etc.

UNDERSTANDING THE LESSON THROUGH KEY SENTENCES:

1. The poet looks at the cardboard on which there is a childhood photograph of her mother.
2. She had gone for a sea holiday with two her cousins Betty and Dolly
3. While they were paddling, their uncle took a photograph of them.
4. Both the cousins were holding the hands of her mother who was the eldest among the girls.
5. This was before the poet was born
6. Time fled past since and all those who are in the photograph under went changes while the sea remained the same.
7. Her mother would look at the photograph after about twenty to thirty years and laugh nostalgically.
8. Now for the poet her mother’s laughter and her sea holiday is a thing of the past.
9. Her mother died about 12 years ago.
10. The silence of the photograph silences the poet.
11. She experiences great loss.

TEXT BOOK QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

1. What does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?
‘Cardboard’ refers to the photograph only. In the past photographs used to be fixed to a cardboard and hung from the wall for every one to see it.

2. What has the camera captured?
The camera has captured some happy moments from the childhood of the poet’s mother. It was a scene taken from a beach where she had gone with her cousins and her uncle for a sea holiday. The girls were paddling in the water.

3. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?
The sea has not changed over the years. It is still the same. The sea symbolizes eternity.

4. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What did this laugh indicate?
This laugh indicates her remembering her past. She looked back to her childhood with nostalgia and remembered the innocent joys of her childhood days.

5. What is the meaning of the line “Both wry with the laboured ease or loss”
‘Both’ refers to the sea holiday as remembered by her mother and the poet remembering her mother’s laughing face. Both these now belong to the past. Her mother is no more now.

7. The three stanzas depict three different phases. What are they?

The three stanzas depict three different phases. The first stanza refers to the childhood of the poet’s mother. The second stanza refers to the poet’s childhood when her mother was an adult. The last stanza refers to the poet’s adulthood when she is not with her mother.

ADDITIONAL SHORT ANSWER TYPE QUESTIONS

1. What scene from mother’s childhood has been captured in the photograph? Who had taken the photograph?
The scene that has been captured in the photograph is from mother’s childhood when she went for paddling with her two cousins. Mother’s uncle had taken the photograph.

2. How did the cousins accompany mother for paddling?
Her cousins accompanied mother by holding her hands when they went for paddling.

3. Explain the contrast given in the last two lines of the first stanza.
The contrast is between the sea and the humans. The sea had remained the same for all these years, but the humans have undergone changes. Her mother grew up and now she had been dead for the past twelve years.

4. How does the poet feel when she remember the sea holiday of her mother?
The poet feels sad when she remembers the sea holiday of her mother. Her mother died twelve years ago.

5. Why doesn’t she want to think about the photograph any more?
She doesn’t want think about the photograph any more because it brings the pain of loss to her mind.



 

 

 

REFERENCE PASSAGE QUESTIONS

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.

a. What does the cardboard refer to?
The cardboard refers to the childhood photograph of her mother.
b. Who was the big girl and how old was she?
The big girl was the poet’s mother. She was then twelve years old.
c. How did the cousins go paddling with mother?
The girl cousins went paddling with mother holding her hand.

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

a. Who does ‘all three’ refer to here?
‘all three’ refers to the poet’s mother and her two cousins.
b. Where are they now?
They have gone to the seashore. They are paddling in the water.
c. Why did they smile through their hair?
They smiled through their hair because they were posing for a photograph.

3. 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.

a. Where was her mother?
Her mother was on the sea shore with her cousins and posing for a photograph.


b. When did this incident took place?
This incident took place when she was twelve years old.

c. How is the poet able to remember her mother’s childhood?
The poet is able to remember her mother’s childhood when she looks into the photograph of her mother.

d. What has stood the onslaught of time and what has not?
The sea has stood the onslaught of time. It is still the same. However, her mother and her cousins underwent changes. Her mother grew up to be an adult and now she is no more.

4 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.”

a. Who would laugh at the snapshot after twenty – thirty years later?
The poet’s mother would laugh at the snapshot after twenty – thirty years later.

b. How did mother remember her past?
Mother remembered her past with nostalgia.

c. Who were Betty and Dolly?
Betty and Dolly were her cousins who had gone with her to the beach for paddling.

6. The sea holiday
was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry
With the laboured ease of loss
a. Who went for the sea holiday in the past?
The poet’s mother had gone for the sea holiday in the past when she was a young girl.

b. What does ‘both’ refer to?
‘Both’ refers to the poet’s mother remembering her past sea holiday as well as the poet remembering her mother’s laughter.

c. How does the poet feel when she remembers her mother?
The poet experiences great sorrow when she remembers her mother who left for heavenly abode twelve years ago.

What does the poet compare her laughter to and why?

The mother’s laughter that used to echo in the house when she was alive has now become the poet’s past. The comparison is given in order to remember the mother with fondness while looking at her photograph.

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

The sea has not changed over the years. It suggests the immortality of sea as compared to the mortal human beings whose life comes to an end finally.

The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What does this laugh indicate?

The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. This is an indication of the fun and joy she had experienced during the beach holiday and she had fond memories of that particular incident. It brought joy to her when she looked at the snapshot.
                                                                                                           

What does ‘this circumstance’ refer to?

‘This circumstance’ refers to the loneliness and the sense of loss that the poet suffers as she remembers her mother who is no more.
                                           

What do you learn about the poet’s mother from the photograph?

The poet’s mother had been a fun loving girl, who had taken great delight with her cousins at the beach and had the fond memories of the holiday that she cherished even when she was a grown up.


 

 

 

 

 

Short answer questions
Q.1. What is the significance of the ‘cardboard’ frame?
Q.2. What tone has the poetess adopted in the poem?
Q.3. What comparison between the sea and human beings has been drawn in the second stanza?
Q.4. What emotions do you associate with the mother looking at the photograph?
Q.5. What emotions would you associate with Shirley as she looks at the photograph?
Q.6. Why does the poetess seem to have nothing to say about the ‘circumstance’?
Q.7. What is silenced and how has it silenced the poetess?

Long answer questions
Q.1. Each photograph is a memory. Justify the statement, in the light of the poem.
Q.2. The past can be a source of inspiration as well as regret. Comment, based on any two chapters (prose, poem or drama) that you have read. One may be this poem. The other will require recall.
Q.3. A photograph captures a moment in time. Discuss with reference to one of your favourite photographs.
Q.4. If you were the poet, what title would you give to this poem and why.
Q.5. You are the uncle who took the photograph of your mother. At her birthday this year, you came across a copy of this poem. Write a letter to your niece, Shirley, remembering the day at the beach.
Q.6. When we look at something, it looks right back at us. Imagine that you are a photograph, (not necessarily the one in the poem). Write a diary entry commenting on the various people who have come into your life.
Q.7. Discuss man’s relation to nature based on any two chapters you may have read (poems, prose, or drama).
Q.8. You are a member of the Blossoms team at Bluebells. You have been assigned the task to interview students at various class levels and write an article about our relationship with our parents. Write the article referring to this poem in context.
Q.9. We only realise the significance of something or someone in our lives, in their absence. Discuss with reference to the text and your real life..

16 comments:

  1. nostalgic feelings of a person is described with the use of figure of speech ,beautifully

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  2. can someone please tell me what the poetess is attempting to say thru the poem????

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    Replies
    1. dear rashmi....the poem conveys a beautiful and simple message that the best phases of a person's life is his childhood and youth when he can laugh carefree, enjoy life to it's full extent and as the time passes by, more and more responsibilities make him older and only the beautiful memories of past boost him up or in a way motivates him to survive...hope it helps..

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    2. life isn't eternal...nature is. moments and memories can bring mixed feelings to our thought. But the fact remains. A loss is a loss. but life is a gift.

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  3. thank u so much for the great explanation of the beautiful poem...

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  4. Tnx for the answers and explanation ! :) ! (Y)

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  5. Thankyou for the Biography Sir! This was quite helpful to us. Indeed, I congratulate your task of writing this post...

    By Abinodh O.T from TechEra - The Era of Technology

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  6. Thank you, This really helped me out.

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  7. What is the mood of the narrator in this poem?

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  8. ATTENTION TO ALL THE VISITORS: I made it more great in my blog!

    If you want more questions and answers visit:

    The Photograph by Shirley Toulson - Notes, Question and Answers, and everything else you might want to know....

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  9. "More great" is incorrect grammar.

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  10. why is the poet getting nostalgic ??

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  11. YOUR BLOG IS AWESOME...IT'S VERY HELPFUL...KEEP POSTING...

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  12. plz tell me how can we conclude that the poetess's mother died 12 years ago .

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  13. Thanks. This helped a lot for my exam preparation and as a quick summary. looking forward for more.

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