Mirror by Sylvia Plath

‘The Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath is an unforgettable poem told from the perspective of a mirror. The mirror gives an autobiographical account of itself.

This poem claims that though certain images reflected in it might be painful to certain people at certain stages of their lives, it is in no way responsible for causing this pain because it reflects exactly what it sees. ‘Mirror’ is a reflection of the mirror’s point of view.

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

 

Mirror Analysis

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

(…)

I am not cruel, only truthful—

In the poem, Mirror, by Sylvia Plath, which can be read in full here, the mirror gives its own description and says that I am silver colored and I am very accurate while reflecting the images of the objects that fall on my surface. I don’t have any preconceived notions and I absorb everything that comes my way. The image is clear and exact as it is neither distorted nor beautified by my likes and dislikes. It is not out of cruelty but truthfulness that I reflect exactly what I see without any intention of hurting anybody.

In this extract, the mirror is described as an ‘exact’ because it shows and reflects whatever it sees in all its exactness. It does not hide, tone down, twist or distort what it sees as the human beings do. When the poet says, “I have no preconceptions,” he means that the mirror is absolutely unbiased. It reflects exactly what it sees without adding or subtracting. It neither has any likes or dislikes. Hence its reflection is totally dependable.

Besides, in the same stanza, the mirror has also been described as ‘unmisted’ because it is ‘clear’, ‘objective’, ‘dispassionate’, and ‘unprejudiced’ in reflecting what it sees. Its view is not obscured by any ‘mist’ of preconceptions and prejudices.

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

(…)

I think it is a part of my heart.

Like an omniscient God, I get a multi-directional view of whatever I get to see. Most of the time I get to focus my attention on the opposite wall that is pink in color and has many discolored patches on its surface. I have been looking at it for such a long time that now it has become a part of my very existence. It is to be noted that the literal meaning of the expression ‘four-cornered’ is rectangular and it has four corners, and its metaphorical meaning is that it can see everything in this world.

The four corners include the entire world. Like God, it watches us fairly without any bias from all four angles. When the poet says: ‘meditate on the opposite wall,” he means that the mirror keeps looking at the wall in a steady gaze even as the mediators do while they meditate and reflect upon God, whereas the phrase ‘It is pink, with speckles’ refers to the pink wall, with the passage of time has got discolored here and there.

But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

In this extract, the poet through mirror says, however, my steady view is interrupted many times. Darkness and individuals standing between me and wall block my view and we are separated from each other whenever such an interruption occurs. ‘Us’ in the above extract refers to the mirror and the wall opposite it, while ‘It’ in the very first line of this extract refers to the image of the wall.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

(…)

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

The mirror in this extract of the poem imagines itself to be a lake and says that it finds a woman looking into me very closely. Delving deep down into my depths she seems to be searching for her beauty and youth that time has robbed her of. She is not able to reconcile to her lack-luster looks.

Hence she catches a glimpse of herself in the dim candlelight and moonlight. Their projection of hers is not exactly as all blemishes of her face get hidden due to lack of light.

In the first line of this extract, the mirror is compared to a lake. Both the objects have the quality of reflecting the image of what appears before them. Just as whatever falls on the surface of the lake is drowned in it, the mirror also swallows whatever falls on its surface. Thus, the comparison is an apt one.

Through the above lines, the woman is searching for her lost youth and beauty. She is also having a close look at her face to gauge the damage that time has done. She is not satisfied with what she observes. She is anxious about signs of age, that is, speckles and wrinkles appearing on her face. Knowing fully well that moon and candles would not reflect her with all truthfulness, she turns to them to get (though false) a mental satisfaction that age was not catching up with her.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

In this extract, the woman once again examines herself in front of the mirror for reassurance. However to her disappointment ‘I’ faithfully reflect her tarnished looks which upset her. Tears well up in her eyes and she is left wringing her hands. The woman starts crying because she has become very old. So she is trembling or shaking. Also maybe she is fretting and fuming at the loss of her youth and beauty. This reveals her to be a woman of a weak and vain character whose life becomes miserable because she cannot accept the reality.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

(…)

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Despite being disappointed at the sight of her aging reflection, she cannot give up. I still hold a significant place and she keeps coming back to me again and again. She starts her morning by looking at her reflection in me. She feels that her beauty and youth have been swallowed by me. Now her old and wrinkled face emerges. The loss of her youth and beauty makes her behave like a fish out of water, which rather than looking elegant and graceful looked, horrid.

The mirror is very important to the woman because she has ‘seen’ herself in the mirror from her girlhood days to her old age. The mirror has always recorded and reflected all the changes in her. It is her companion and confidant. It shows her true self to her. She is used to looking at herself in the mirror. She has been fond of admiring her youth and beauty as reflected by the mirror. But now she does not like wrinkled and aged face. She regrets the loss of her youth. It is to be noted that ‘the young girl’ and ‘the old woman’ are the same people. Looking at herself in the mirror, the old woman travels down the memory lane right up to her childhood days. That youth has now disappeared forever.

The use of the phrase ‘terrible fish’ in the last line describes the hog-like and wrinkled face of the old woman. The loss of her youth and beauty makes her behave like a fish trapped in the pond of time which looks terrible without any grace or elegance.

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Dharmender Kumar
About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
  • Lady of the silver lake
    She was my silver trembling hands.
    lady of the silver lake

    Contributed by alicewhite on Tuesday, August 26 2014 @ 03:15:50 AEST
    Topic: Surreal Poetry
    Calico witness goat afloat , no aw to row the rowing boat

    At waters edge tears reside
    honey due moon drip sip upon ripples upon tide
    languished lengthening of longing pangs the pride
    cold flaming tongues and lips ripped apart
    toes test the water to baptise the heart
    the two stand together igniting the spark
    one upon water the other on land
    serpentine forged silver sword
    silver trembling hands.

    bride and groom
    sun and moon
    ring of fire
    wedding band

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      What is this, please?

      • This is Lady Lazarus and the mirror is my lake
        Silver and exact.

        • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

          ah, okay. Thank you for sharing.

  • Avatar nellie campbell says:

    this text is a very inspiring one, and thee analysis that was stated on this page is a very inspiring one, it has helped me to understand this poem fully.

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