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Mirror -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem sent in by Ronald Lundquist
(Poem #678) Mirror
 I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
 What ever you 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 a 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.
-- Sylvia Plath

This poem is haunting, beautiful, gripping and breaks your heart. There are
many websites that discuss this poem, most of them interpret the poem in
terms of chronological aging (I list a few below.) I am not so sure. Perhaps
Plath refers to emotional aging, the evolution from a lively young woman
(pre Ted Hughes?) to an angry depressed suicide waiting to happen. Don't
misunderstand me. Although I am no deep student of the Plath-Hughes
relationship I do not believe Hughes can be blamed for Plath's self-induced
demise. They separated in 1962. She wrote this poem in 1961. She killed
herself in 1963, three days before Valentine's Day. Anyway I am digressing
from the analysis of Mirror.

Perhaps Plath is telling us that we uncover to ourselves when we are alone
who we really are - or who we want to be or we wish we were. Sometimes it
takes a while for the self to discover who he/she is or is not. And maybe
that discovery unveils the self to be an angel, at other times it discloses
the self to be a terrible fish. Which are you? If you are unhappy with your
answer don't worry. Time changes everything.

Thr following biography is from
Plath, Sylvia   1932 -- 1963
Writer. Born October 27, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. Plath's father, a
German immigrant, was a professor of biology and a leading expert on
bumblebees. An autocrat at home, he insisted his wife give up teaching to
raise their two children. He died at home after a lingering illness that
consumed the energy of the entire household and left the family penniless.
Sylvia's mother went to work as a teacher and raised her two children alone.
Plath was an outstanding student. She won a scholarship to Smith College,
published her first short story, "Sunday at the Mintons," in Mademoiselle
while she was still in college, and won a summer job as "guest managing
editor" at the magazine. After the job ended, she suffered a nervous
breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and was hospitalized. She returned to
school to finish her senior year, won a Fulbright to England, and went to
Cambridge after graduation, where she met poet Ted Hughes in February 1956.
They married four months later.  Plath took a job teaching at Smith, which
she kept for a year before quitting to write full time. She and Hughes lived
in Boston, and she attended poetry workshops with Robert Lowell, whose
confessional approach to poetry deeply influenced her. Hughes won a
Guggenheim fellowship in 1959 and the couple returned to England, where
Plath had her first child.  Her first poetry collection, Colossus, was
published in 1960 to favorable reviews. The couple bought a house in Devon
and had a second child in 1962, the same year that Plath discovered her
husband was having an affair. He left the family to move in with his lover,
and Plath desperately struggled against her own emotional turmoil and
depression. She moved to London and wrote dozens of her best poems in the
winter of 1962. Her only novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical
account of a college girl who works at a magazine in New York and suffers a
breakdown, was published in early 1963 but received mediocre reviews. With
sick children, frozen pipes, and a severe case of depression, Plath took her
own life in February 1963 at age 30.  Hughes edited several volumes of
Plath's poetry, which appeared after her death, including Ariel(1965),
Crossing the Water (1971), and Collected Poems (1981), which won the
Pulitzer Prize in 1982. He received criticism for publishing a severely
edited version of his wife's journals, The Journals of Sylvia Plath, in
1982. After Hughes' own death in 1998, Plath's journals were published in
full, as The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath,Links discussing Mirror:

[broken link]

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107 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Certz4 said...

Can you PLEASE help me out with the poem called Mirror by Sylvia Plath, I
have read this poem so many times and I have no clue what its about and I
have to answer some questions on this poem and I dont know what to write. Can
you give me tell me what human characteristics it has in the first stanza and
could you also tell me in what ways the mirror is not fully human? If you
could help me out a little bit I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

Sevierls said...

I have studied Mirror by Sylvia Plath for my grade 8 drama exam, and the
ideas put forward in your coments were the comments that I thought the poem was
about and I just wanted to say that I'm glad that someone else thinks the same!
Anyway just thought I'd say that.

frith said...

this poem as put up on site is about the concept of ageing and how women cant deal will the process of it and always want thier youth to come back ....i mean they find it difficult to accept the part & parcel of what comes with ageing
and also the concept of the mirror to show and interpret everything as it is and not colour it with its own thought etc...also in the poem it is shown how important a mirror is to a woman even though she may not accept the image of her ageing self still she comes back day after day before the mirror

Evelynmccomb said...

It is talking about your reflection.the mirror shows you for who you are and
tells no lies just truth. When it shows you flaws it is not being cruel, just
truthful. Every line is a description of a mirror. It is using personification
to demonstrate the mirror using human details.

Gerus04 said...

Grrr. The second line of that poem is wrong!

Rikudaholic said...

right now, i'm in the middle of writing a paper on "mirror" for my 11th grade
english class, (i know i shouldn't be procrastinating) and i see it quite
differently than any other interpretation i've seen so far on the internet. the
mirror is a hypocrite! The mirror uses an assertive tone and natural (lake,
fish, moon), spiritual (meditation, little god) and cosmic imagery (passage of
time- aging, light/dark) to try to prove that it is an emotionless,
non-judgmental, inanimate object, however, its description of itself and the woman who
owns it reveals that it actually does have emotions and make judgments like
jealousy over the candles & moon and judging the woman's motives for using the
mirror & aging. hope you find this interesting.

Ms. Mar-chan said...

The Narcissus allusion is particularly important, and I wish you'd touched on
that. While the mirror is certainly important, its role as the judgmental
narrator--in spite of claims to the contrary--is more important than what it
means to the woman.

The Pope said...

This is about reflection.

The mirror described with an almost clinical accuracy, reflects only what is
there. It is the reflections of the beholder that can be cruel.

The lake has no description. It simply is. Unlike the mirror it has depth,
movement, and can drown, reflected in the lines of the verse, but not
described as such. The lake reflects out what is inside, not back what is
inside, the person.

The lake is the person, the mirror a reflection of the person.

anna hensley said...

the second line is wrong it should be "Whatever I see I swallow immediately"

Matthew Hanley said...

i think this poem is one that may hint at cuicied, i got this from analizing the poem. as you read into it the poem hints on the idea that we get old and die, almost like she thinks life is a waste

Laura Wilson said...

hi my name is Ruby i am 10 years of age and i live in the uk.

Today we learnt about this poem in school, I think it was very complicated and deep. it certainly made me think.
The words in this poem were picked out carefully and i thought that it was quite sad.

Anonymous said...

slyvia plath went thru many struggles in her life and this poem mirror was connected as she got older she became more sensitvive and spent time lookin at her own reflection as she seein her self white and exact

Anonymous said...

The structure of the poem with its 2 equal length stanzas mimic the properites of the mirror; it is a reflection

Anonymous said...

i just wanted to say that your guys comments helped me a lot!! Thanx. It was kinda hard in the beginning but i got it. :) <3

Anonymous said...

this poem has alot to it
i think it refers to sylvia herself and how at first she was nice and sane like the mirror and then her head got muddled and she was not as clear but was like a lake

Anonymous said...

The mirror is placid, unblemished, precious (silver), and in its own estimation, without preconceptions. It is also, immediately after this, a gaping maw that swallows indiscriminately, impersonally. The mirror is patriarchy, bureaucracy, modern society, what have you - self-righteous, impersonal, self-celebratory, and insidiously possessive of the thing it cannot be (the thing it reflects and swallows and drowns). The mirror is systems; that impersonal deity that defines our lives. The tone of the poem changes, becomes acceleratedly threatening, the moment the woman turns her back on the mirror. When a subject appears, the mirror becomes a lake, not only permeable, but something you fall into if you lean in too far.

Ashleigh said...

Can someone plz help i have to write an essay on this poem but i have no clue as to what it's about

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Anonymous said...

I do not think that the mirror is merely an objective observer - the mirror sees as opposed to simply reflecting and sight is fundamentally subjective.

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