The poem is a tribute to the poet’s mother. She is looking at an old photograph of her mother which has a frame of cardboard. The picture has three girls in which the middle one is the oldest and tallest.
It is her mother when she was twelve years old or so. Beside her, on both sides are her two cousins, Betty and Dolly, who are holding her hands and are younger than her. They went for paddling on a beach holiday. Her uncle took the photograph then. The poet could not help but notice her mother’s sweet face. The sea touched her terribly transient feet which depicted that she changed over the years and the sea remained the same.
After twenty-thirty years, her mother would laugh at the photograph. She would make the poet look at the photograph and tell her how their parents would dress them up for the beach holiday. The beach holiday was her mother’s favourite past memories while her laugh was the poet’s favourite memory. Both of them lost something which they cherished a lot and yet cannot live that moment again. Those sweet moments were memories now.
Now, the poet’s mother had been dead for the past twelve years, which is the same number as of her age when the photograph was taken back then. She cannot express the grief that she has from her mother’s absence.
Infer the meanings of the following words from the context.
Paddling’ means ‘wading’ or ‘rowing’ a boat.
‘Transient’ means temporary.
Now look up the dictionary to see if your inference is right.
Think it out
1. What does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?
Answer: The word cardboard denotes the photograph pasted on a hard thick paper. This word has been used to refer to a practice in the past when photographs were pasted on cardboard and framed with glass front to preserve them.
2. What has the camera captured?
Answer: The camera has captured the three girls—the poet’s mother and her two cousins, Betty and Dolly, in their swimming dresses with the poet’s mother in the middle and the two cousins on either side holding her hands and walking v feet in sea water.
3. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?
Answer: The sea has not changed over the years. Its waves are as fresh, shining and tireless
as they were years ago. The changelessness of sea reminds us of the changes in human face with advancing age.
4. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What did this laugh indicate?
Answer: This laugh’ indicated her joy at remembering an incident connected with her past
life, when she was quite young and free from the tensions and worries of life.
5. What is the meaning of the line “Both wry with the laboured ease of loss.”
Answer: The sea holiday and the laughter of the poet’s mother are incidents of the past.
There is a sense of loss associated with them. Both are amusing yet disappointing as the state of feeling comfortable or relaxed is unnatural or forced one. This sense of loss is quite painful to bear.
6. What does “this circumstance” refer to?
Answer: This circumstance refers to the death of the poet’s mother.
7. The three stanzas depict three different phases. What are they?
1.The girlhood of the poet’s mother—the period before the birth of the poet.
the first stanza depicts her mother’s childhood days when she was twelve years old or so. It talks about a photograph of her with her two cousins on a beach holiday. Her uncle took the photograph. Her mother changed over the years as she grew older. While the sea which touched their feet in that beach holiday hadn’t changed over the years.
2.Her middle age—the period during the childhood of the poet
In the second stanza, the poet talks about her childhood days when her mother used to look at the photograph and recalls everything mentioned in the first stanza.
3.Period after the death of the poet’s mother.
In the last stanza, the poet shares that her mother is dead as many years ago as was her age in the photograph. She died twelve years ago. The poet is recalling her mother’s old memories while looking at the photograph. She is in pain and misses her deceased mother. She has no words to describe her grief.