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A Photograph

2 marks
Who were the three? Why did they stand still and smile?
The three persons in the photograph were the poet’s mother and her two cousins, Betty
and Dolly. This photograph was taken when the mother was only twelve. They had
gone for a beach holiday and the three had stood still and smiled while posing for the

Who are the people in the photograph?

The people in the photograph are the poet’s mother when she was only twelve and also
her two cousins, Betty and Dolly when they had gone on a beach holiday.

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 does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been
The word ‘cardboard’ is the frame of the photograph showing the poet’s mother in her
childhood. The word has been used to depict the old fashioned, inexpensive frame used
as the border of the photograph.

What has the camera captured?

The camera has captured the picture of the poet’s mother and her two cousins, Betty
and Dolly while they were at a beach holiday.

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 is the meaning of the line ‘Both wry with the laboured ease of loss’?
The poet and her mother seemed to have lost a significant thing or person. In the
mother’s case it might be a near and dear one and in the poet’s case it is her mother’s
laughter, happiness and joy.

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.

What, do you think made the poet’s mother laugh?

The poet’s mother laughed when she saw the photograph of her childhood, along with
her two cousins, Betty and Dolly. The photograph was clicked by her uncle and she
remembered joyfully the wonderful beach holiday she had gone for.

The poet’s mother reacts at her past. How does the poet react to her mother's
The poet reacts to her past (the mother’s) by looking at the photograph and
remembering her mother. She remembers her dead mother with ‘laboured ease of loss’
and feels that the sense of loss is irreparable. She cannot even talk about it. Its ‘silence

Why, do you think that the poet says nothing about her mother’s death?
The poet remembers her mother with nostalgia as she looks at the photograph. In the
present circumstance, she feels the loss is irreparable and does not need to say anything
at all. The seriousness of the loss of a loved one (the mother) is sufficient to make her
go silent.

Explain ‘Its silence silences’.

The poet feels that the loss of her mother is so great and irreparable that when she looks
at her mother’s photograph and remembers her, she does not have to express her grief
in words. The silence of the circumstance (loss of mother) makes her silent.

4 marks
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) Name the poem and the poet.
b) What does the ‘cardboard show’? What occasion does it portray?
c) Who was the ‘big girl’? What do you learn about her?

a) The poem is ‘A Photograph’ and the poet is Shirley Toulson.

b) The ‘cardboard’ shows the picture of three girls, the poet’s mother and her two
cousins, Betty and Dolly. The occasion was when they had gone for a beach holiday.
c) The ‘big girl’ was the poet’s mother. We learn that she was a joyful, bubbly girl of
twelve who had been excited about her beach holiday.

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 terrible transient feet.
a) Who were the ‘three’?
b) Why did they stand still and smile?
c) Why has the poet referred to the sea?
d) What do you understand by ‘terribly transient feet’?

a) The three were the poet’s mother and her two cousins, Betty and Dolly.
b) They stood still and smiled because they were posing together for a photograph
clicked by the uncle from his camera.
c) The sea referred to by the poet suggests that the sea has not changed, but change
comes in the lives of people.
d) 'Terribly transient feet' refers to the ever changing imprints of feet on the seashore.
The sea does not change but the human life is transient.
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 her laboured ease of loss.
a) Who is ‘she’? When would she laugh and why?
b) Which event does she refer to?
c) What does the poet compare ‘her laughter’ to and why?
d) Explain “Both wry with the laboured ease of loss’.

a) ‘She’ is the poet’s mother. She would laugh when she would look at the snapshot
years later.
b) She would refer to the incident of the beach holiday when she had gone with her
cousins, Betty and Dolly. Her uncle had taken a photograph.
c) The poet compares ‘her laughter’ to her own past when she remembers her mother’s
laughter. Mother’s sea holiday was her past and the poet’s past is the mother’s holiday.
d) Both, the mother and daughter remember some pleasant incidents of the past. For the
mother it is the holiday, while for the poet it is her mother’s laughter. It is with a sense
of loss that she remembers her mother and the expression on the face is that of grief and

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.
a) How long do you think has she been dead?
b) What does ‘this circumstance’ refer to? What does the poet say about it?
c) Explain ‘its silence silences’.

a) The poet’s mother seems to have been dead for twelve years.
b) The circumstance is the death of the mother and the poet’s loss.
c) The death of the poet’s mother brings a sense of grief within her and she has no
words to express her grief. The death’s silence silences. It is final. One is helpless
before it.

How does the poet ‘Shirley Toulson’ remember her mother?

Shirley Toulson looks at the photograph of her mother and her mother’s cousins. The
photograph was of the mother when she was twelve years old. Shirley remembered how
her mother used to laugh joyfully when she would look at the photograph and
remember the beach holiday. Shirley remembers and misses her dead mother while
looking at the photograph.

What aspect of the sea does Shirley Toulson mention in ‘A Photograph’?

What is the philosophy of the poem?

The philosophy of the poem is a nostalgic recollection of the past.

3 marks
The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What did this
laugh indicate?