A Photograph Class 11 poem: Summary, Theme, and Analysis

In this article, you can read the summary and analyze A Photograph Class 11 poem

About the poet:

Name of the poem: A photograph

Name of the poet: Shirley Toulson(1924-2018)

Shirley Toulson was an English writer, poet, journalist, and local politician

A Photograph class 11

Theme of the poem: A photograph

The theme of the poem A Photograph is how transient and mortal human life is, it reflects the pain of separation and how people after death are vividly present in the memories of their loved ones.

A Photograph Class 11 poem: Summary

The poet finds an old photograph of her mother who dies nearly twelve years ago. The photograph was taken even before she was born. Her mother is at a beach with her two cousins on either side namely Betty and Dolly dressed in a funny manner. They went paddling in the water on a nice holiday. They seemed to have a really good time. As children, they looked rejuvenated and carefree. Her uncle captured this moment.

The poet misses her mother and feels the pain of parting but there’s nothing she can do about it. She will have to live with her memories. In the picture, the sea touches her mother’s transient feet. The sea is still there and appears like it hasn’t changed much since that time which describes the temporary nature of human beings.

Her mother misses those happy moments and she knows it’s the past that she cant relive again. Alongside the poet misses her mother’s laugh which she knows cant return again as she is no more alive. She doesn’t have many words to explain her pain. She becomes silent on the thought of parting. The silence around her is so heavy that it silences her silence.

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.
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.


paddling – to move the hands or feet about in shallow water

transient – lasting only for a short time; impermanent.

Explanation of stanza 1:

The poet is staring at an old picture framed in cardboard. In the picture, her mother was standing on a beach with her two cousins on either side. she seemed the biggest among the three girls around twelve years or so. They went for paddling(playing) in the water. The picture conveyed how happy and carefree they were as children, away from any kind of grief and misery that eventually life brings.

The poet is gazing at her mother’s sweet and beautiful young face. The person who captured this lively moment was her mother’s uncle. Now that her mother is not alive anymore, she misses her. She feels the pain of separation. The sea that washed her feet is still the same but her mother isn’t, this shows the transient nature of human life.

Stanza 2:

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.


wry – using or expressing dry, especially mocking, humour.

laboured – done with great effort and difficulty.

Explanation of Stanza 2:

After twenty or thirty years, when this photograph was taken, her mother would laugh at it and mock how her cousins namely Betty and Dolly were dressed. It seemed stupid to her to be dressed like that just for a photograph that too at a beach. That memorable holiday was her mothers past and her laughter is the poet’s past. When looking at this picture her mother realizes that she cannot live those mesmerizing moments again and the poet now realizes the same thing that she cannot see her mother laughing like that again, hence they both experienced the same pain of loss.

Stanza 3:

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 of Stanza 3:

Her mother died nearly twelve years ago and now the poet has no words to describe how she feels about the separation. She can’t collect her feelings. All that she can hear now is silence and that silence silences all the thoughts.

Literary Devices used:

Alliteration (the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words)

  • stood still
  • terribly transient
  • silence silences

Suggested reading:

A Photograph class 12 poem: summary, theme, and analysis

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