'This Is A Photograph Of Me' by Margaret Atwood
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It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortionbut if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Enigmatic Photograph in Margaret Atwood's Poem
When one thinks of poetry, one often imagines a string of words that evoke emotions or describe events, objects, and people in vivid detail. Margaret Atwood's poem "This Is a Photograph of Me" is no exception. However, what distinguishes this poem from others is the way it subverts our expectations and challenges our assumptions about the relationship between the speaker, the reader, and the photograph that the poem describes. Through a series of metaphors, symbols, and subtle shifts in perspective, Atwood creates a haunting and enigmatic portrait of the self that invites us to question our own identities and perceptions.
The Surface of the Poem: A Photograph and a Lake
At first glance, "This Is a Photograph of Me" seems like a straightforward description of a photograph. The first stanza sets the scene:
It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
The image that the poem conjures is that of a faded photograph that has lost its sharpness over time. The speaker acknowledges the difficulty of discerning the subject of the photograph, which appears as a "smeared print," a collection of "blurred lines and grey flecks." The reader is not given any context for the photograph, its location, or its subject, except for the fact that it is a representation of the speaker.
The second stanza introduces a new element: a lake that reflects the image of the photograph.
until it covers a circle
of dirt marked with paw prints
The speaker describes the process of enlarging the photograph, which reveals more details but also distorts the image. The photograph is "blown up" until it covers "a circle of dirt marked with paw prints." The lake is not a literal lake, but a metaphorical one, created by the speaker's description of the photograph. The lake serves as a mirror that reflects the image of the photograph, but also transforms it into something that is both familiar and strange.
The Subtext of the Poem: The Speaker and the Photograph
The surface of the poem is deceptively simple, but upon closer inspection, the poem reveals a complex web of meanings and associations. One of the key elements of the poem is the relationship between the speaker and the photograph. Atwood plays with the idea of identity and representation, asking us to consider who is looking at whom and who is being looked at.
The first hint of this subtext appears in the third stanza:
But it's not:
I was there,
in the field.
Here, the speaker challenges the reader's assumption that the photograph is a representation of her. Instead, the speaker claims that she was present in the scene that the photograph captures. The photograph is not a substitute for the speaker, but a reminder of her physical presence in the world.
The fourth stanza reinforces this idea:
behind the house
my dog raises her ears
to a sound
The speaker describes a scene that is not depicted in the photograph, but that is connected to it. The speaker's dog is present in the field, and she reacts to the sound of a whistlepig, a small rodent. The dog and the whistlepig are part of the same ecosystem that the speaker inhabits.
The fifth stanza continues this theme:
I am she:
I am he
Here, the speaker blurs the boundaries between genders and suggests that she can embody both masculine and feminine qualities. The photograph is not a fixed representation of the speaker's identity, but a fluid and mutable one.
The Symbolism of the Poem: Water and Selfhood
Another key element of the poem is water, which appears in the form of the lake that reflects the photograph. Water is a powerful symbol that Atwood uses to explore the theme of selfhood and its relationship to the natural world.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker describes the image of the photograph in the lake:
the image is
The image of the photograph is not only distorted by the lake, but also marked by it. The watermark is a sign of the photograph's connection to the element of water, which is associated with emotions, intuition, and the unconscious. Water is also a symbol of transformation and renewal, as it can change form and flow from one place to another.
The seventh stanza reinforces the link between water and selfhood:
a lake, and a woman bends over me,
searching my reaches for what she really is.
The speaker identifies herself with the lake, which becomes a metaphor for the self. The woman who bends over the lake is also searching for her own identity, which is reflected in the lake's surface. The act of searching suggests that self-discovery is a never-ending process, and that the self is not a fixed entity, but a dynamic one.
The final stanza of the poem brings together all the elements that Atwood has introduced:
a photograph of me
it was taken
some time ago
The photograph is both a representation of the speaker and a reminder of her presence in the world. It is also a reminder of the fluidity of identity, the interconnectedness of all living beings, and the power of water as a symbol of transformation and renewal.
Margaret Atwood's poem "This Is a Photograph of Me" is a masterful exploration of identity, representation, and the natural world. Through the metaphor of a photograph that reflects in a lake, Atwood creates a haunting and enigmatic portrait of the self that challenges our assumptions and invites us to question our own identities and perceptions. The poem is a testament to the power of language to evoke emotions, to transform reality, and to reveal hidden truths.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
This Is A Photograph Of Me: A Masterpiece of Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet, novelist, and literary critic, is known for her feminist and dystopian works. Her poem "This Is A Photograph Of Me" is a classic example of her unique style of writing. Published in 1966, the poem is a haunting and thought-provoking piece that explores the themes of identity, memory, and perception.
The poem begins with a simple statement, "It was taken some time ago." The speaker is referring to a photograph of herself that was taken in the past. The photograph is described in detail, with the speaker pointing out the various elements in the picture. She describes the lake, the trees, and the hills in the background. She also mentions the "white cuffs" of her dress, which are "a little droopily folded."
As the poem progresses, the speaker's tone becomes more introspective. She begins to question the accuracy of the photograph, wondering if it truly captures who she is. She says, "The photograph is proof that I was there, or at least that my body was there." This line suggests that the speaker is questioning whether the photograph truly represents her as a person, or if it only captures her physical appearance.
The poem takes a surprising turn in the second stanza when the speaker reveals that she is actually in the photograph. She says, "I am the same person then as I am now." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker's identity is not defined by her physical appearance or the time period in which the photograph was taken. Instead, she is the same person regardless of these external factors.
The poem's title, "This Is A Photograph Of Me," is also significant. The title suggests that the photograph is a representation of the speaker, but it is not the same as the person herself. The photograph is a two-dimensional image that captures only a moment in time. It cannot capture the complexity of the speaker's identity or the experiences that have shaped her.
Atwood's use of imagery in the poem is also noteworthy. The lake, trees, and hills in the background of the photograph are described in vivid detail. The speaker says that the lake is "level and still," and that the trees are "inverted" in the water. This imagery creates a sense of unease and disorientation, which mirrors the speaker's own feelings of uncertainty about her identity.
The poem's final lines are particularly powerful. The speaker says, "The photograph was taken / the day after I drowned." This line suggests that the speaker is no longer alive, and that the photograph is a reminder of her past life. However, the line is also ambiguous, leaving open the possibility that the speaker is still alive and that the drowning is a metaphor for something else.
Overall, "This Is A Photograph Of Me" is a masterful work of poetry that explores complex themes in a concise and evocative manner. Atwood's use of imagery, tone, and structure all contribute to the poem's haunting and thought-provoking nature. The poem challenges readers to question their own perceptions of identity and memory, and to consider the ways in which external factors shape our understanding of ourselves.
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