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 can see something 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 how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.
but if you look long enough
you will see me.)
Through the free verse poem, “This is a Photograph of Me,” Margaret Atwood touches upon themes of feminism, the distortion of reality, and the importance of understanding others in society. Upon further analysis, this once simple poem is filled with symbols to the brim and weaves an extended metaphor. The poem literally talks of a photograph about, presumably, a woman, who has drowned. Throughout the poem she describes the photograph that was taken the day after she drowned, depicting the environmental setting she died in. But after digging deeper into the alternate meanings of words, and what they can portray, the meaning of the poem has changed as whole. Gone are the literal implications, but instead a poem that is focused on what has happened in between the lines. It has not been explicitly stated but the poem’s purpose is to discuss feminism and the role of women during the pre-war era leading up to WWII.The speaker’s voice is veiled by the lake as if she were drowning but actually it refers to the lack of understanding and effort society tries to make to dig, ” under the surface,” of this water blocking her voice of freedom from most of the male population. Furthermore, the use of water evokes purification or righteousness, but in this case, it is the medium that distorts the reality: women being oppressed by men and societal’s predetermined roles for them. Prominently, this poem depicts the many thoughts of the women living in the 1940’s and the title itself delivers this message of a generic “me”. The “me” that speaks the thoughts of women but is also portrayed as a generic term simultaneously, from the meaning of photograph in the context of this poem. Photographs usually give others a better sense of someone’s identity but in this case, this photograph obscures the speaker even more. This effect by the author draws upon the often insignificance of the “me” or the many women of that era. By using adjectives that, “[blur] the lines,” the figure of a women is made trivial; the mindset of many during that time.
While reading this poem, the many feelings of the speaker connected on a personal level due to the similar emotions I felt. Often times I feel like, ” I [have] drowned,” not literally but on an emotional level. Where the feelings of ignorance and lack of acceptance really tear down my will to live. Giving up on life does not necessarily end with one taking their own life. It can also mean living a life without meaning and being affected by it, but not doing anything to change it. If the people around me, ” look[ed] long enough,” then they would, ” be able to see me.” Sometimes when I’m going through difficult times or feeling like my voice isn’t heard, I wished that people around me tried a little harder to ask me how I was just like the speaker in the poem. What I loved about this poem is that it is the epitome of simplicity yet it’s simplicity can be drawn to so many different perspectives and levels of analysation. I absolutely loved the extended metaphor focusing on the photograph itself and the drowning. It was incredibly thought out as the words which were written down were completely different from the theme of feminism, yet readers can still see the parallelism.
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