A Photograph by Shirley Toulson .. Explanation

A Photograph by Shirley Toulson .. Explanation

This is a poem of remembrance with a rather sad tone. It brings into focus the unstoppable changes ‘time’ forces on the lives of humans and objects.

A old, unframed photograph is the cue ……

The photograph, old and frayed, holds so many happy moments of her mother’s childhood days.

An old un-framed family photograph mounted on an ordinary cardboard has turned brownish and somewhat frayed with the passage of years. The photograph stands defiantly as a mute witness to the happy childhood days of the poet’s mother. It shows her mother, a 12-year-old girl, frolicking in the sea beach with two of her younger cousins, Betty and Dolly, at her sides. The wind blows her hair onto her face. Their happiness shows in their faces. They smile as they peer into the camera held by their uncle.
The poet, Shirley, was not born then. So, the photograph must be decades old. Her mother had a sweet face. The three girls stood in the water as it swept their little feet. No doubt, they enjoyed their time in the edge of the sea.
The poet’s mother has long departed from earth after living her full life, but the sea has hardly changed in the years gone by. This contrast is so striking.

The photograph holds on to her long-departed mother …..  
The photograph takes Shirley down the memory lane. She recollects how her mother, now no more, used to stare at the photograph musing on her face that looked so innocent and sweet those days. Some twenty to thirty years must have elapsed in the mean time. She would chuckle at the way her cousins came dressed to the beach. It was childhood innocence at its purest.

But, time has ravaged the sweet, old past ……

But, time has no regard for such mundane matters. It rolls on inexorably destroying, building and devouring the living and the non-living objects on earth.
The mother drew pleasure from her past childhood days. Shirley remembers how her mother laughed reminiscing about her visits to the sea shore. Both the happy moments have receded to the oblivion, never to return. The sense of loss is painful. Shirley feels the loss as acutely as her mother did.

Time will devour everything — living and non-living …

The photograph that rekindled the memories will, over the years, succumb to the ravaging power of time. It will also vanish from the face of earth. Every living being will perish; every inanimate object will head to the scrap yard, and every fun-filled activity will fall silent. This is the rule of Nature.


  1. What is the theme of the poem?   A Photograph by Shirley Toulson is a sad poem of reminiscence  that sounds philosophical to the readers. Any photograph captures a moment of time. In this poem, the lone photograph hanging from the wall has a story to tell. It tell the author of her mother’s days in the beach, where as a young teen, she gambols in the beach in gay abandon. Time has rolled on, but that happy moment of her mother’s life has stood still as an witness in eternity. Her mother’ used to muse at the way her face had changed with time. Quite clearly, the author has become emotional thinking of her mother’s early-teen days, her pretty face which have changed inexorably, never to return. The mother has departed, and the author has aged too. Soon the time will come when the photograph will be consigned to scrap yard, obliterating any trace of two generations of a happy family.

           The poem is an elegy that makes the reader nostalgic, and experience the wrenching grip of time. The time motion rolls on bringing             with it the joys of life, but as the wheel turns, sorrow and destruction come home to roost. This cycle of death and regeneration is                 inescapable. This is the eternal truth. One needs to come to terms with it.

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