Line by Line Meaning of A Photograph by Shirley Toulson

About the Poet – Shirley Toulson is an English poetess. She was born on 20th May 1924 in Henley-on-Thames, England. However, she has spent most of her life in Somerset.

Toulson has worked as a teacher of creative writing for adults. Between 1967 and 1970, she was the features editor of the journal Teacher. Between 1970 and 1974, she was the editor of Child Education.

Toulson’s first collection of poetry entitled Shadows in an Orchard came out in 1960. She went on to edit important works on Dickens, Kipling, Milton and Shakespeare. However, her primary interest is in Celtic Christianity. Her most famous works on this subject are The Celtic Alternative (published in 1987) and The Celtic Year (published in 1993). Her books The Drovers’ Roads of Wales and The Drovers Roads of South Wales are social histories of the British countryside.

Toulson still lives in Somerset and is said to be working on two books – one about the Celtic church in Britain from the third to the eighth centuries and another which will recount a county history of Somerset.

About the poem:

Not much is known about the publication history of “A Photograph” by Shirley Toulson despite this poem being one of her best known ones.

Setting of the Poem

This poem is set in the memories of two women – the poet and her mother. The mother’s memory is in the form of the photograph that is referred to in the title of the poem. She misses her past as a little girl visiting the beach with her other cousins. On the other hand, the poet’s memory is that of her mother who has passed away. She remembers how her mother would look at old photographs to cheer herself up. In both cases, the women grieve for the past that they have lost.


Please note: N = Noun, V = Verb, Adj = Adjective, Adv = Adverb, P = Preposition, Pr = Pronoun

Cardboard (N): Pasteboard or stiff paper

Paddling (V): Present participle form of the word “paddle”, that is, to walk with bare feet in shallow water

Still (Adj): Not moving or making a sound

Terribly (Adv): Very; extremely

Transient (Adj): Lasting only for a short time; impermanent

Snapshot (N): An informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small handheld camera

Wry (Adj): (Of a person’s face or features) twisted into an expression of disgust, disappointment, or annoyance

Labored (Adj): Alternate (American) spelling of the word “laboured”, which is in turn the past tense of the word “labour”, that is, to have difficulty in doing something despite working hard

Ease (N): Freedom from worries or problems

Circumstance (N): A fact or condition connected with or relevant to an event or action

Silences (V): Third person present tense of the word “silence”, that is, to cause to become silent; prohibit or prevent from speaking

You can also check out this Detailed Video Playlist containing the Summary, Analysis and Much More from the Poem:


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