A Photograph: by Shirley Toulson

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Victorian swimwear (27)

Having an image to accompany the poem (and the poem linking Shirley Toulson’s emotions pretty directly and simply with it), means that this is one of the most parsed literary works on the Internet:

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.


I must admit I was imagining the figure on the left of the image as being an adult: but in fact it’s the poet’s mother when she was twelve, the two little girls being her mother’s cousins Betty and Dolly. The particular emotion is that of grieving a dead parent: and the strange feeling that photography produces of capturing life so faithfully that the loss and the general transience of life itself is felt even more keenly…..

I won’t link to them, but if you Google the image or the name of the poem and the poet, you can read some very good critiques written by schoolchildren.



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