Class XI: Hornbill – A Photograph

A Photograph

By Shirley Toulson

About the Author

Shirley Toulson was born on 20th May 1924 in Henley-on-Thames, England. She had a great passion for writing and was greatly influenced by her father who was a writer too. She secured a B.A. on Literature from Brockenhurst College in London in the year 1953. Shortly, she took writing as a career but also served as the editor for many magazines in meantime. She married Alan Brownjohn on 6th February 1960. They had three children – Janet Sayers, Ian Toulson and Steven brownjohn. But after nine years they divorced on March 1969.

Poem: A Photograph

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.

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

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.

Introduction

The poet describes how deeply she feels the loss of her mother. Her mother has been dead for more than twelve years. The poet recalls how her mother used to look at a photograph and remember her own childhood.

Summary

The poet looks at the photograph of her mother which was taken when her mother was 12 years old. She had gone for a sea holiday with her cousins Betty and Dolly. While they were paddling on the beach, her uncle clicked a photograph. Each of the cousins was holding the hands of the poet’s mother who was the oldest among them. All the three of them stood smiling through their hair while the photo was taken. Her mother had a sweet face, but it was a time before she was born. Years fled past since then. Her mother grew up into an adult. They all underwent changes while the sea stood still.

After about twenty or thirty years the poet’s mother would look at the photograph laughing nostalgically and remembering the past. She would appreciate the dress worn by her cousins Betty and Dolly. The sea holiday belonged to the past of her mother and the poet still remembers how her mother would laugh looking at the snapshot. For the poet both these bring great sadness and an acute sense of loss.

Her mother died 12 years ago and now the poet has nothing to say about this circumstance of the photograph. The silence of the whole situation silences the poet and leaves her quiet.

Main Points

1. The poet looks at a childhood photograph of her mother.
2. She had gone for a sea holiday with her two cousins Betty and Dolly
3. While they were paddling on the beach, their uncle photographed their sweet smile in a camera.
4. Both the cousins were holding the hands of her mother who was the oldest among the girls.
5. This was before the poet was born.
6. Time fled past since then and all those who are in the photograph underwent changes while the sea remained the same.
7. Her mother would look a
t the photograph after about twenty or thirty years and laugh at this photo 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.

Detailed Explanation

1. Explain: ‘The cardboard shows me how it was’.
 
Ans. The 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. Explain: ‘All three stood still to smile through their hair’.
 
Ans. All three of them stood smiling, their hair were flying over their faces (possibly tossed by the beach wind or water)

Poetic device: alliteration… stood still to smile

3. Explain:

‘And the sea, which appears to have changed less
 Washed their terribly transient feet.’

Ans. The sea in the picture is still the same today and has changed very less. It seems to wash their feet which by nature, are transient because human life is short-lived as compared to nature.

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.

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 (their terribly transient feet) but writing only alliteration as the poetic device will lead to a loss of marks)

4. Explain:
 
‘The sea holiday
was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry
With the laboured ease of loss’
 
Ans. The sea holiday was remembered by her mother with a fondness as well as a sense of loss because that time would never return. 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. Both these pasts 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 ‘ease’ are opposite words describing the same entity ‘losses’. 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.

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.

5. Explain: ‘that girl lived’.
 
Ans. Now, it has been twelve years since her mother passed away. The girl in the photograph seems like a different person altogether. That’s why the poet has used the words, ‘that girl’.

6. Explain:
 
‘And of this circumstance
There is nothing to say at all,
Its silence silences.’

Ans. Her mother has passed away leaving behind nothing but memories and photographs like this one. 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.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)

1. Read the following extract and answer 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.

Q.  What does the cardboard refer to?

Ans. The cardboard refers to the childhood photograph of her mother.

Q. Who was the big girl and how old was she?

Ans. The big girl was the poet’s mother. She was then twelve years old.

Q. How did the cousins go paddling with mother?

Ans. The girl cousins went paddling with mother holding her hand.

2. Read the following extract and answer 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

Q.  Who does ‘all three’ refer to here?

Ans. ‘all three’ refers to the poet’s mother and her two cousins.

Q. Where are they now?

Ans. They have gone to the seashore. They are paddling in the water.

Q. Why did they smile through their hair?

Ans. They smiled through their hair because they were posing for a photograph.

3. Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow:

……………………….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.

Q. Where was her mother?

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

Q. When did this incident take place?

Ans. This incident took place when she was twelve years old.

Q. How is the poet able to remember her mother’s childhood?

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

Q. What has stood the onslaught of time and what has not?

Ans. 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. Read the following extract and answer 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.”

Q. Who would laugh at the snapshot after twenty – thirty years later?

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

Q. How did mother remember her past?

Ans. Mother remembered her past with nostalgia.

Q. Who were Betty and Dolly?

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

5. Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow:

………………………The sea holiday
was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry
With the laboured ease of loss

Q. Who went for the sea holiday in the past?

Ans. The poet’s mother had gone for the sea holiday in the past when she was a young girl.

Q. What does ‘both’ refer to?

Ans. Both’ refers to the poet’s mother remembering her past sea holiday as well as the poet remembering her mother’s laughter.

Q. How does the poet feel when she remembers her mother?

Ans. The poet experiences great sorrow when she remembers her mother who left for heavenly abode twelve years ago.

Q. What does the poet compare her laughter to and why?

Ans. 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.

6. Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow:

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.

Q. When did the poet’s mother die?

Ans. The poet’s mother died about twelve years ago.

Q. What does the poet remember of that girl?

Ans. She remembers how much her mother had changed from a young girl. She also remembers the sweet laughter of her mother.

Q. Explain: ‘Its silence silences.’

Ans. The loss of her mother is too deep for the poet. Now she has nothing to say at all. The silence of the whole situation silences the poet and leaves her quiet.

Q. What is ‘this circumstance’?

Ans.This circumstance means the death of her mother.

Short Answer Type Questions

Q1. What does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?

Ans. ‘Cardboard’ refers to the photograph only. In the past photographs used to be fixed on a cardboard and hung from the wall for everyone to see it.

Q2. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?

Ans. 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.

Q3. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What does this laugh indicate?

Ans. 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.

Q4. What does ‘this circumstance’ refer to?

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

Q5. What do you learn about the poet’s mother from the photograph?

Ans. 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.

Q6. What has the camera captured?

Ans. 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.

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

Ans. This laugh indicates her remembering her past. She looked back to her childhood with nostalgia and remembered the innocent joys of her childhood days.

Q. What is the meaning of the line “Both wry with the laboured ease or loss”

Ans. ‘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.

Q. What scene from mother’s childhood has been captured in the photograph? Who had taken the photograph?

Ans. 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.

Q. How did the cousins accompany mother for paddling?

Ans. Her cousins accompanied mother by holding her hands when they went for paddling.

Q. Explain the contrast given in the last two lines of the first stanza.

Ans. 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.

Q. How does the poet feel when she remembers the sea holiday of her mother?

Ans. The poet feels sad when she remembers the sea holiday of her mother. Her mother died twelve years ago.

Q. Why doesn’t she want to think about the photograph anymore?

Ans. She doesn’t want think about the photograph anymore because it brings the pain of loss to her mind.

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

Ans. The three stanzas depict three different phases of life. The first stanza refers to the childhood of the poet’s mother. The second stanza refers to the adulthood of the poet’s mother. The last stanza refers to the last phase of life – the death of the poet’s mother.

2 thoughts on “Class XI: Hornbill – A Photograph

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!
Inline
Inline