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The Living Photograph

BY JACKIE KAY

The Living Photograph


My small grandmother is tall there,
Straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt,
Pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun,
A kind, old smile round her eyes.
Her big hand hold mine,
White hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.

It was true after all, that look.


My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and hunched
Her soup forgot to boil.
She went to the awful place grandmothers go
Somewhere unknown, unthinkable.

But there she is still,


In the photo with me at three,
The crinkled smile is still living, breathing.

Understanding the poem


SUMMARY OF STANZA 1
The persona is looking at an old

photograph of her grandmother and


herself. She describes the photograph - her
grandmother is standing tall and straight,
dressed in a white embroidered lace blouse
with a pleated skirt, and flat shoes. Her grey
hair is pulled neatly into a bun.

She is smiling kindly while holding the

persona's hand in hers, giving her the


security and comfort. As the persona
describes their linked hands - white hand
in black hand - it is clear that they come
from a mixed race family. The last line
seems to suggest that while her
grandmother looks well, the persona
knows that her death will come soon.

SUMMARY OF STANZA 2
While the first stanza describes the photograph,

in the second stanza, the persona is


remembering her grandmother later, when she
is older and has become ill. The persona recalls
how her grandmother soon grows thinner and
more fragile. Her back is hunched and she
becomes forgetful as is illustrated in the line,
Her soup forgot to boil. Eventually, she passes
away and upon her death, she goes to an
unimaginable place.

SUMMARY OF STANZA 3
However, in the photograph, the persona's

grandmother will forever be alive. She is


still there, holding the hand of her threeyear-old granddaughter, with her smile
looking so alive and real.

AN OVERVIEW
The poem illustrates how a photograph

immortalises a person. In the first stanza, the


persona describes her grandmother in the
photograph standing tall in a white lace blouse
and a pleated skirt, with her hair in a grey bun.
She is holding the persona's hand, who was
three years old at the time the photograph was
taken, and smiling kindly. The line white hand
in black hand, suggests that they come from a
bi-racial family, giving the reader some
background information of the persona.

The photograph triggers the persona's

memory of what happens to her


grandmother later. She remembers her
grandmother becoming older and weaker.
Her back that was once straight and strong
becomes hunched, and she becomes small
and fragile as well as forgetful. Soon, she
passes away.

However, in the photograph, her

grandmother will always be alive and well.


The photograph does not show her becoming
gradually older and weaker or acknowledge
that she has passed away. It will always show
her as a strong and healthy woman, holding
the hand of her young grandchild. To the
persona, the photograph represents how her
grandmother will always be alive in her
memories.

Analysing the Poem


BACKGROUND
The Living Photograph is a poem that reminds

us how a photograph can keep the memories of


our loved ones alive.
The persona is looking at an old photograph of
herself with her grandmother and soon she is
swept away by memories of a specific time when
her grandmother was alive and the events that
eventually lead to her death.
Although her grandmother has since passed
away, in the photograph, her grandmother will
always be alive and well.

SETTING
No specific time frame is mentioned

although it can be surmised that the


persona is in the present and is having
recollections of her childhood as she looks
at the photograph.
No specific place is mentioned but it most
likely occurs in the persona's home where
old photographs are kept.

PERSONA
The persona in the poem is most likely the

poet herself.
She is looking at an old photograph and is
swept away by memories of her late
grandmother.
From the poem, the persona seems to be
fond of her grandmother.

TONE AND MOOD


In first stanza, the tone is descriptive where

the persona describes the photograph in detail.


In the second stanza, there is a tone of sadness
as the persona remembers the decline of her
grandmother's health until her death.
In the last stanza, the persona seems to accept
that her grandmother has passed away but
remains positive that her grandmother will
always be alive in her memories.

THEMES
The everlasting quality of a photograph
A

photograph immortalises a person or a


moment. What is captured in a photograph
will remain alive forever.
In the poem, the persona's grandmother
has already passed away. However, in the
photograph, she will always be healthy and
alive.
A photograph also allows us to reflect on
what happened in the past and relive our
memories.

Death
Death

is a definite outcome for all of us.


In the poem, the persona recalls how her
grandmother was once strong and healthy
but soon grows older and becomes ill.
In the end, the grandmother passes away
and the persona is only able to relive her
memories with her grandmother through a
photograph.

MORAL VALUES
We must treasure our loved ones

when they are alive.


We must spend as much time as we can
with our loved ones while they are still
living.
When they pass away, all that will be left
are the memories, as is illustrated in the
poem.

It is difficult to lose a family

member.
It is always difficult to deal with the
death of a loved one.
The persona loses her grandmother
when she was younger but she will
always remember her.

We must never forget the

importance of family relationships.


We should not forget to love and care
for our family, especially our
grandparents who are the pillars of a
family.
When they are old and sick, we must
continue to take care of them.

Literary Devices
Imagery

The poet describes the grandmother vividly and the reader is


able to imagine what she looks like..

Contrast

In the first stanza the poet describes the grandmother as strong


and healthy. In contrast, the stanza deals with her getting old
and ill and eventually passing away.

Literary Devices
Symbolism

The photograph is not merely a photograph. It actually


represents the memories the persona has of her grandmother.

Irony

The irony lies in the title itself. The poem is called The Living
Photograph, however, in reality, the grandmother is actually
dead.