The poem A Photograph is a splendid portrayal of the uncertainty of life and death. It introduces the theme of memories and souvenir into the conversation of mortality. Death is often thought of as the culmination of change while life is brimming with motion.
A Photograph Poem Summary
The snapshot is used as a symbol to depict such certain but unpredictable change. The poem can be divided into three separate moments.
It begins with the poetess gendering at her mother’s photo which is lying with the cardboard boxes possibly uncared for some time. It is not dressed in any frame, metal etc so it is depicted as being susceptible to forces of decay.
The poetess’ young mother is seen flanked by her siblings, who are younger than her. They seemed to be on a swimming trip and the strength of her young mother (12-year-old) is highlighted as support for the young cousins.
They are looking into the camera when they are photographed by their brother/uncle. They are happy and excited with their flinging locks and winsome smiles.
The picture also shows the sea waves lashing at them as the young maidens learn to keep up with the waves. The poetess lingers with the thought that sea, although in motion, has been able to resist the cycle of change even though her mother (motionless in the photograph) has surrendered to her mortality.
In the second phase, her mother has grown older and looks back the day at the sea. She remembers her two cousins and relives the day immortalized in the photograph. She enjoys making fun of her and her cousins’ attires.
The lines have a tone of lamentation as the mother is trying to accept the continual motion of life as she grows older. Harking back at her twelve-year-old self maybe was an attempt to return to her childhood, a painful reminder of time and age.
In the third stage, the daughter is remembering her mother as she died earlier. The photograph has scripted a memory for both the mother and the daughter entwined them together even after her mother has left her forever.
She confesses a sense relish at envisioning her mother laughter much like her mother relished reliving the day at the sea. The poetess further notices that the time elapsed since her mother’s final departure is the same as her age in the photograph i.e. 12 years, just a coincidence or an elaborate irony of life and death.
Both the mother and daughter eventually learned to accept the change and make peace with their memories even though they remind them of the transience of happy moments, laughter etc.
Even though the death or end makes things go quiet and empty, the poetess found the death of her mother to be loud and stimulating enough to pour her feelings out in form of a tribute and poem.
So even though death culminates everything, her mother’s death elicited a new response in her. Finally, she accepts (silently) her resignation to the final silence of death.
The text is in blank verse and employs a range of poetic devices like allusions (cardboard), similies (as many years as), hypallage or transferred epithet (transient feet) etc.