ANTHOLOGY : A POISON TREE – POEM 1 : THE LIVING PHOTOGRAPH (by Jackie Kay)

POEM 1 : THE LIVING PHOTOGRAPH (by Jackie Kay)

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 holds 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.

Stanza 1

Line Meaning
1  My small grandmother is tall there, The persona’s grandmother looks tall in the photograph.
2  straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt , She is standing with good posture, wearing an embroidered lace blouse.
3  pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun, She wears the blouse with a pleated skirt, non-heeled shoes and her hair in a bun.
4  a kind, old smile round her eyes. She is smiling kindly.
5  Her big hand holds mine, Her big hand is holding the persona’s hand.
6  white hand in black hand. The contrast of their skin colours can clearly be seen in their linked hands.
7  Her sharp blue eyes look her death in the eye. Her grandmother’s blue eyes suggests that her death is near.

Stanza 2

Line Meaning
8  It was true after all; that look. The persona’s reference of death came true.
9  My tall grandmother became small. The grandmother became thinner and more fragile.
10  Her back round and hunched. Her back became hunched.
11  Her soup forgot to boil. She became forgetful.
12  She went to the awful place grandmothers go. Soon, she passed away.
13  Somewhere unknown, unthinkable. Upon her death, she went to a place that no one knows.

Stanza 3

Line Meaning
14  But there she is still, However, in the photograph, her grandmother will always be alive.
15  in the photo with me at three, The persona was there years old in the photograph with her grandmother.
16  the crinkled smile is still living, breathing. Her grandmother’s smile is still so alive and real.

Moral Value

1  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.

  2  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.

3  We must never forget the importance of family relationship.

  • 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.

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 the persona knows that her grandmother’s death will come soon.

Summary of Stanza 2

While the first 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 three-year-old granddaughter, with her smile looking so alive and real.

Themes

 1    The everlasting quality of a photograph                                                               

  • A photograph immortalizes 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 grandmother passes away to reflect on what happened  in the past and relive our memories.

 2    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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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