Explain the mystical and ambiguous nature of the poem, This is a Photograph of Me and its purpose.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Photographs tell us about people, places or events and are usually a fond reminder of something. This poem starts off in a predictable manner and we are drawn into the poem by its natural flow and conversational tone.

We start to relax and look forward to images of an idyllic time spent by the lake. The mystery builds up as we wonder and wait expectantly to see the photograph, hear more about it and envision the event. The precise descriptions that are offered add to the mystery of this poem as we shall never actually "see" this photograph of "her." 

We are not prepared for what follows and there is no warning. The conversational tone remains and is almost matter-of-fact. It changes the setting to a morbid, depressing place but one where we are not allowed to linger. Margaret Attwood addresses the drowning as she might any other occurence that day.

Taking the words "I am in the lake, in the center/ of the picture," increases the ambiguity in this poem as we are not sure what we are interpreting: it is supposed to be a picture of a person, perhaps in a boat, even waving at the photographer but instead is a shocking reference to a tragic event.

The mystery explained, she urges us to "look long enough" which is even more confusing as we will never "see" her. How horrifying to look for a dead body floating in the water "just under the surface." What are we really loking for? What is the deeper meaning? The ambiguity increases (but this is the end and its supposed to be clear by now!) as we wonder what we are supposed to understand from this poem. We do not expect to be confused by a title and a poem that seems so

 simple, clear, and straightforward.

Such is the paradox. Appearance versus reality are presented so subtely in this poem. The false sense of security we feel is completely shattered by the revelation. Margaret Attwood wants her readers to understand how life goes on. Some people will never see the subject of the photograph floating in the  lake so will be unaffected by it. Others, whilst affected by it, will move on with their lives.

'The more things change the more they stay' the same is very relevant to the essence of this poem.

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