"A Photograph" by Shirley Toulson is a nostalgic and poignant poem that delves into the themes of memory, loss, and the passage of time. The poem begins with the speaker looking at an old photograph featuring her mother as a young girl, alongside her two cousins, enjoying a day at the beach. The image captures a moment of innocence and joy, with the three girls smiling at the uncle who is taking a photograph. The speaker reflects on the constancy of the sea, which remains unchanged, in contrast to the transient nature of human life.
As the poem progresses, the speaker recalls her mother's laughter when she looked at the photograph years later, reminiscing about the beach holiday and the way they were dressed. The mother's laughter becomes the speaker's own memory, tinged with a sense of loss and the passage of time. The poem highlights the contrast between the mother's experience of the past and the speaker's connection to her mother through the memories she shares.
In the final stanza, the speaker acknowledges the passing of time, noting that her mother has been dead for nearly as long as the girl in the photograph has lived. The poem concludes with a profound silence, emphasizing the inability of words to adequately express the emotions and circumstances surrounding her mother's death. In this way, Toulson masterfully captures the complex feelings of nostalgia, loss, and the inexorable march of time through the examination of a single, seemingly ordinary photograph.