A photograph

“A Photograph” Questions and Answer, Class XI, CBSE

A Photograph -Shirley Toulson

A Portrait

About the Poet

Kathleen Shirley Toulson was an English poet, journalist, and local politician who was born on May 20, 1924, and passed away on September 23, 2018.

During World War II, Toulson worked for the Auxiliary Territorial Service and attended Prior’s Field School. In 1944, she wed army lieutenant Norman Toulson: 1951 saw their separation. After that, she worked at Foyles bookshop and studied English at Birkbeck, University of London, before becoming a journalist. She wed the poet Alan Brownjohn in 1960; In 1969, they divorced.

She was a member of The Group, an informal group of poets who met in London between the middle of the 1950s and the middle of the 1960s, as a poet. Her work was published in the 1963 collection A Group Anthology by the group.

She and her husband Alan Brownjohn were elected to the Wandsworth London Borough Council as Labour councillors in 1962. In her 1973 short story “Playground of England,” which appeared in the Welsh journal Planet, she satirized the English second-home owners’ use of Wales as a tourist destination.

Toulson wrote several books about walking routes that farmers used to transport livestock from Wales to England, beginning with her 1977 publication of The Drovers’ Roads of Wales. For a 1986 reference publication, she contributed a profile of the novelist Christine Brooke-Rose.

Her most popular books include : “Shadows in an Orchard” (1960) and “Circumcision’s Not Such a Bad Thing After All” (1970) The Drovers’ Roads of Wales (1977), A Zodiac of Sonnets (1972), and East Anglia: The Companion Guide to Devon (1996), Walking the Ley Lines and Ancient Tracks (1979), and The Country of Old Age: “An Individual Journey Through Time (1998)”

A photograph

Summary of the A Photograph

The poet’s mother is honored in the poem. She is looking at a vintage cardboard-framed photograph of her mother. There are three girls in the picture, with the oldest and tallest girl in the middle.

It was her mother when she was approximately twelve years old. Betty and Dolly, her cousins who are both younger than her, are holding her hands on both sides of her. During their vacation at the beach, they paddled. The picture was taken then by her uncle. The poet couldn’t help but notice the sweet face of her mother. The sea touched her terribly transient feet which depicted that she changed over the years and the sea remained the same.

Her mother would laugh at the picture after thirty years. She would ask the poet to look at the picture and then tell the poet how their parents would dress them up for the beach vacation. Her mother cherished her summer vacation at the beach, while the poet cherished her laugh. They both suffered the loss of something they deeply valued and are unable to recreate that experience.

Those tender times are now cherished memories. Now, the poet’s mother had passed away twelve years ago, the same age she was when the photograph was taken. She is unable to express her grief at her mother’s absence.

Also Read : The Portrait of a Lady

Short Answer Type Questions

1. What has been caught by the camera in “A Photograph”?


The poet’s mother’s happy childhood moment has been captured by the camera. The poet’s mother’s  picture was taken when she was around twelve years old and went on a beach vacation with two of her cousins, Betty and Dolly. The poet and the poet’s mother both remember the captured image as a cherished keepsake.

2. In the poem, what does the word “cardboard” mean? Why is this expression being used?


The photograph’s supporting and bordering frame is referred to as “cardboard” in the poem. The poet’s mother and two of her cousins, Betty and Dolly, are shown in the picture when she was twelve years old. The term “cardboard” has been used to suggest that the image dates back a long time. In the past, photo frames made of cardboard were common.

A photograph

3. What has remained constant over time? Do you think this means something?


The line, “And the sea, which appears to have changed less,” suggests that the sea has remained essentially unchanged over time. It has not at all changed.

The mortal life is starkly contrasted by these lines. While human life is fleeting and transitory, the sea represents permanence, immortality, and eternity. The poet emphasizes the fleeting nature of human existence by using the phrase “terribly transient feet.”

4. The picture made the poet’s mother smile. What did this smile imply?


While recalling a moment from her past that was captured in the photograph, the poet’s mother laughed. She recalls the innocent pleasures she experienced as a child and looks back on them with nostalgia. She recalls the pleasant memories when she looks at the photo years later. The way they were dressed for the beach vacation makes her laugh.

However, the agony of loss lurks beneath these pleasant memories. The realization that the wonderful times of her youth will never be the same to her causes the pain.

5. What does the phrase “Both wry with the labored ease of loss” mean?


The poet’s memory of her mother’s smiling face and the mother’s recollection of her childhood days provide the context for the preceeding lines.

The mother recalls happy times from her past with a sense of loss because it makes her realize that the good times she had as a child will never come back. The poet uses the word “loss” to describe her mother’s death. She misses her mother’s laughter and presence, though she has fond memories of her deceased mother. As a result, both recall their pasts with a smile that disguises their sadness because neither can relive those lost moments.

6. What does “this circumstance” refer to in the poem “A Photograph”


The poet’s current situation, in which she is absorbed in the agonizing memory of her deceased mother, is referred to as “this circumstance.” The poet also realizes that the number of years since her mother’s death is the same as her mother’s age in the photograph as she looks at the picture and thinks of her mother laughing.

7. What does “their terribly transient feet” mean to the poet?


The word “transient” lexically means “short and fleeting” . The age of the three girls was increasing. As time went on, they underwent significant changes. However, the sea has not changed over time. The expression emphasizes the disparity between a mortal man and an eternal, indestructible sea.

 8. Explain: Her past was a vacation at sea, and her laughter is mine from the poem “A Photograph”


In both instances, the poetess’s mother is referred to by the possessive adjective “her.” The mother laughed when she saw the picture, taken on a sea vacation 20-30 years ago. Her past was her sea vacation. However, the poetess’s mother’s laughter has now vanished twelve years after her death. However, the poet misses her laughter as her mother is dead now.

9. Explanation  “its silence silences” from the poem “A Photograph”


The poet has felt a lot of pain over the nearly twelve years since her mother passed away. She no longer hears her laughter. The poet must bear her loss in silence as there is now only silence.

A photograph

Broad Answer Type Questions

1. Three distinct phases are depicted in the three stanzas of the poem ” A Photograph”. What are they?

Ans: The first stanza describes the poet’s
mother’s early years, around when she was twelve. It discusses a picture of her and her two cousins on a beach vacation. The picture was taken by her uncle. As she got older, her mother changed over time. While the sea that they stepped on during that beach vacation had not changed over time.

The poet recalls everything mentioned in the first stanza and talks about her childhood, when her mother used to look at the photograph.

The poet tells us in the final stanza that her mother died as long ago as she was in the photograph. Twelve years ago, she died. While she is looking at the picture, the poet is thinking back on old memories of her mother. She is suffering and grieving the loss of her mother. She can’t put her grief into words.

Also Read : Tales From Shakespeare-webacademix


Written by Chhanda Kaity

Chhanda Kaity, Asst. Professor (Lecturer), Bishnupur Public Institute of Engineering completed his Masters from Vidyasagar University with First Class after graduating with honours in English Literature from The University of Burdwan. He also completed B.Ed from The University of Burdwan.


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