Mirror by Sylvia Plath
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
About the poet .. Sylvia Plath (1932 -1963) had a short and sorrowful life. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts. The nervous breakdown and depression that plagued Plath all her life perhaps came from her father, Otto Plath, who was a man given to panic, and prejudice. Sylvia had a very creative mind, but, at the same time, it became a whirlpool of intense emotions that caused extreme swings of mood and suicidal tendencies. Sylvia wrote in a new style that was based on autobiographical confessions. She married Ted Hughes, another prolific writer, but the marriage ended in divorce after she discovered that Ted was having an affair with Assia, a very beautiful woman. After the divorce, Sylvia’s mental torment worsened until she took her own life in 1963.
Among her great works are ‘The Colossus and Other Poems, Ariel, and The Bell Jar. Reading Plath’s poems and relating them to her life makes one very sad. Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously.
The poem ..
This deeply moving poem was written in 1864. It is a short two-stanza poem that bristles with feelings of loss, resignation, and doom.
The first stanza …The poet metaphorically refers to the mirror. Here, the mirror becomes the speaker. She says that she is a very impartial, truthful, and accurate medium that absorbs anything that falls on it, and gives out the image very truthfully, with no prejudice. The mirror, says she has four corners, and likens itself as the eyes of the God. Such allusion to God is obviously due to the fact that the mirror accepts every image that falls on it with no fear or favour, and reflects it to the truest detail.
When there is no object in its front, the mirror just looks at the wall in front, passively, and without any emotion. The wall is pink, and it has small marks on its body. During the day, the wall brightens up, and as the dusk nears, it becomes hazy. In the night, it becomes black. This cycle of brightness to darkness continues endlessly.
The second stanza .. The mirror begins to speak again. She likens herself to a lake, where a woman has been coming to collect water for ages. She was a child when she first came to the lake. From that day, she has been coming here every day. When she looks down to collect water, she gets to see a reflection of her face. She looks at her keenly. The reflection is a true reproduction of her facial appearance. She is glad to see it, because it is true and honest. It does not hide anything. There is no intention to deceive her. On the contrary, when she sees her face in candle light, or in moonlight, the face looks deceptively more charming. The candle and the moon conceal some features of her face, particularly those that are associated with ageing.
No doubt, discovering the degeneration of one’s face with age is not a very pleasant feeling. The woman who comes to collect water from feels sad the deterioration of her beauty with the passing years. Her eyes well up with grief. Her hands tremble. Nevertheless, the woman is not upset with the lake. Rather her loyalty to the lake increases. She comes to the lake each morning to see the reflection of her face, and ponder. The grief in her face is palpable. The inexorable decline of her beauty from her adolescence to her dotage is irreversible. She knows this. Like a dreadful fish, the claw of time rises to grip her, but she is undone.
Questions and answers …
Q1. … Point out the Literary Elements used in the poem.
Personification.. It is a poem totally based on personification. The ‘Mirror’ speaks like the first person. It is apparent from the very first line.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Here, ‘I’ is the mirror.
The mirrors avers it in the first paragraph. The following lines are the testimony.
I am not cruel, only truthful,
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
So the mirror becomes the eye of a little god, in a metaphoric sense. Later, the poem reads..
Now I am a lake
The lake becomes a mass of clear water that reflects any object faithfully.
The final few words (like a terrible fish) constitute a simile.