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CSEC English B: Mirror by Sylvia Plath Poem Analysis

Updated: Nov 15, 2021



Mirror

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.




Summary

Just as the title suggests, the poem is about a mirror in its many forms. It is written from the perspective of the mirror as it comments on its own objective reflection of the things around it. It considers itself wholly truthful, an impartial retelling of the physical appearance of something devoid of preconceptions. The first stanza simply relates the mirror’s basic function, and its regular meditation on the pink speckled wall opposite to it, separated momentarily by the darkness of night cycles and passing faces. The second stanza shows the mirror in the form of a lake. The mirror now relates saddening recurring interactions with a woman who uses the lake as a mirror, trying to see what she is. The mirror (as the lake) reflects her appearance truthfully, triggering great unhappiness and displeasure in the woman, bringing her to tears. The lake and its objective reflection of her fading youth is like an important ritual to her. Daily, she sees old age appear more and more in her features, as though something horrible is rising in the lake each time she consults its impartial reflection. The themes of the poem include appearance vs reality, senescence, time and women. The mood is somewhat reflective (hehe, get it?) and pensive. The tone is matter-of-fact (dignified) based on the mirror’s pride in its impartial reflective properties.


Analysis

“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever I see I swallow immediately Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.”

The poem begins with the mirror’s simple declaration of the nature of its existence. In this form (as the conventional glass mirror) and in any other form, it is infallibly accurate and has no biases that cloud how it represents the objects before it. It is impartial; no likes or dislikes result in a muddling of details or tampering with the outcome of one’s appearance. It seems prideful in the assuredness of its exactitude. An alliteration is used in the second line ‘Whatever I see I swallow immediately,’ communicating no hesitation or biased selection in what it does or does not reflect.

“I am not cruel, only truthful‚ The eye of a little god, four-cornered.”

The mirror declares itself merely an agent of complete truth. By mentioning cruelty, it suggests that the displeasure felt by someone at their own appearance in the mirror is not the fault of the mirror itself- it intends to be only truthful regardless of the emotions felt by the subject. The mention of being the ‘eye of a little god’ ties into the idea of an unyielding truthfulness, as the concept of god is associated with an impartial judgement of subjects.

“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.”

When not being used by people, the mirror reflects the pink-speckled appearance of the wall opposite to it. The mirror considers the wall almost a part of itself because it has looked at it for so long. However, this indefinite staring contest between them is broken up by the darkness of regular night cycles and the faces of people who peer into the mirror in search of their own appearances.

“Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is.”

The mirror now describes another one of its forms- the reflective surface of a lake. It speaks about a woman who bends over the lake, trying to see what she really is. This diction is interesting, because the mirror states that she searches for ‘what she really is,’ as though the mirror will define her identity somehow. This is quite strange, especially considering that one’s appearance doesn’t define their identity.

“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.”

The mirror refers to the moon and candles as ‘liars.’ These are both light sources, but that still doesn’t necessarily explain why the mirror considers them liars. The innate beauty of these light sources does not reflect the appearance of the onlooker. The mirror surface of the lake reflects the woman’s back, but she is obviously displeased by her own appearance. She ‘rewards’ the mirror with tears of sadness and agitates its calm surface by disturbing it with her hands. This is an oxymoron, as the ‘reward’ for such faithful reflection is something so negative and of obvious displeasure.

“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.”

The lake is ‘important’ to the woman- returning daily to look at her own face as though it is a ritual. This compulsive obsession with looking at herself ties into a need to watch her fading youth. The poet uses a metaphor here to relate the aging of the woman: “in me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises toward her day after day.” Slowly, after years of this ritual, the young girl has disappeared, and instead, an old woman is appearing in her features, reflected by the lake. The poem ends with a simile, “Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.” This communicates that the old woman (her imminent senescence) is repugnant and repulsive to her, but it continues to rise, day after day.