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Lines for a Photograph by R Parthasarathy

by Litinbox

Lines for a Photograph by R Parthasarathy is a small poem of 20 lines about a girl in the speaker’s family album. The identity of the girl is unclear. She can be the speaker’s sister or one of his relatives.

The poet reminisces her physical attributes and some unforgettable moments captured in the picture and the early life of the girl.

‘Lines for a Photograph’ was first published in ‘Illustrated Weekly of India‘ along with ‘Stairs’. Various interpellation can be given to the poem; literal, figurative and symbolic. Given below is the literal meaning of the lines.

Lines for a Photograph Text

Over the family album

the other night I share your childhood

The unruly hair silenced

by bobpins and ribbons, eyes half-shut

before the fierce glass,

a ripple of arms around Suniti’s neck

and, in the distance,

squatting on fabulous haunches,

of all things, the Taj

school was a pretty kettle of fish:

the spoonful of English

brew never quite slaked your thirst.

Hand on chin you grew up,

all agog, on the cook’s succulent folklore

You rolled yourself into a ball

the afternoon Father died, till Time

unfurled you like a peal of bells.

How your face bronzed as flesh and bone

struck a touchwood day. Purged

you turned the corner in a child’s steps.

Lines for a Photograph Summary

The speaker reflects on some memorable moments captured in the family album. The poem begins with the description of the girl’s appearance in the photograph; her wild and uncontrollable hair is neatly tamed by hairpins and ribbons, her eyes are in half-closed condition in response to the intense flash of the camera.

A ripple of arms tenderly embrace around Suniti’s neck. And, in the distance, the Taj school is visible in the picture, which the poem describes “a pretty kettle of fish” where she has learnt a spoonful of English which never quenched her thirst for the language.

The speaker also reminisces how the girl grew up listening to the cook’s ‘succulent folklore’ with excitement. He also recounts one afternoon in her life when her father passed away, she rolled herself into a ball, awestruck by his sudden demise. Only time has healed her of all her pains.

Finally, the poet recalls her touchwood day. Her face became brown, signifying her transition from childhood to adulthood.

Poetic Devices

Imagery: The poet employs imagery in the lines “unruly hair silenced by bobpins and ribbons” and “eyes half-shut before the fierce glass”. Imagery is a visually descriptive language where the use of words is to create images in the reader’s mind.

Personification: Look at the capital ‘T’ in the word “Time”. Time is personified in the line “till Time unfurled you like a peal of bells”. This line compares the unfolding of time to the ringing bells. Personification is a figure of speech which attributes human characteristics to things or abstract ideas to create an artistic effect.

Symbolism: The mention of the girl’s face bronzing marks a symbolic transition from childhood to adulthood in the line: “How your face bronzed as flesh and bonet struck a touchwood day.” Symbolism is a literary device that uses words or images to symbolise a specific concept.

Simile: We can find a simile used in the line, “till Time unfurled you like a peal of bells.” Simile is a rhetorical device used to compare (a direct comparison) two things typically using the words “like”, “as” and “than”.

Metaphor: Metaphor is a figure of speech used to compare two unrelated things or objects to help understand an idea easily. Metaphor is used in the line, “the Taj school was a pretty kettle of fish”, where “the school” is compared to “a kettle of fish”.

R Parthasarathy

R Parthasarathy (full name Rajagopal Parthasarathy) is an Indian poet, educator and translator born in 1934 in a village named Tirupparaiturai near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, India.

His popular works are ‘Poetry from Leeds’ (1968), ‘Rough Passage’ (1977), and he also translated Silappathikaram into English as ‘The Tale of the Anklet: An Epic of South India’.