Poem Analysis 1 – Mirror by Sylvia Plath

MIRROR – SYLVIA PLATH (1961)

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 towards her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Art by Erica Craig (found on Google)

BACKGROUND OF THE POET : SYLVIA PLATH 

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)/Image from Pinterest.

Plath’s mirror is a poem about self introspection where mirror is the narrator. It is a brilliant example of personification. For people new into poetry writing this can serve as a perfect start to understand little nuances about this art form. Unlike other poems by Sylvia, I find it relatively easy to understand. I first read the poem when I was in school and find the poet little crazy. Honestly speaking I did not understand why mirror became a lake and why she is talking of a fish but I was completely wrong. You can never form an opinion about an artist after reading one work. It is not that easy. When I read her novel ‘The Bell Jar’ I was compelled to come back to this poem and since then reading has been a different process altogether.

Sylvia was a confessional poet. Her writings offer an insight into her life as a woman struggling to deal with her existence along with the depression. Her writings are not dark. Trust me. They are the way they need to be- true and relatable. If she were here, she would have known that she was never alone in her loneliness. There is so much I want to talk about her life but let’s just get back to the poem and although I have read some controversial texts about her personal beliefs, I am not quite well read to comment anything. 

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

The poem begins with mirror narrating his tale. Here mirror is personified which means it is shown to have human traits. The phrase ‘silver and exact’ describes the physical properties of the mirror, by ‘exact’ poet might emphasis on the fact that mirror reflects the truth without any exaggeration. Even though appearances can be deceptive, mirrors make an important part of our lives. The truthfulness of the mirror is further explained by the lines ‘Whatever I see I swallow immediately Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike’. The use of word swallow also intensifies personification by declaring that mirror has mouth and can digest images without any discrimination. The truth is difficult to digest, hence the line that follows depicts the fact that reflections are the truth and they do not make mirror cruel. This line carries so much importance. I have learnt to stay upfront and confront people with the truth and while doing so I have always been called selfish or unkind. This is not always true. Truth do seems like a cruel thing but it is the only way to tackle emotions and problems. Stay true to yourself and be clear about your opinions. This quality of truthfulness makes the mirror declare himself as the eye of little god (metaphor). The phrase ‘four cornered’ emphasize on the exact position and broad view of the mirror. 

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.

These lines talks about the relationship of the mirror with the opposite wall (or about our relationships). The profound love in the lines ‘I have looked at it so long I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers’ melts my heart. It is not a love poem but it defines it. Love is such a universal feeling. You cannot get rid of it even when you almost hate. ‘It is pink, with speckles’ is most probably an imagery, open to multiple interpretations. For me it represents the mind of the poet while meditating – troubled but beautiful. People come and people go but the wall remains. Do you think you can separate them?

The transition in the further lines may sound absurd to the first time readers. I happen to understand the poem when I started writing because when we write our imagination is set free. There are no limitations to our thoughts and maybe that is why when Sylvia wrote about mirror her gaze shifted to water, a fluid counter part of the mirror. 

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.

Mirror is now talking about a woman who bends over him to search for her truth but cannot accept her appearance. Candles and moon perhaps depict the shine or the light under which real appearance can be hidden easily. The stanza also depicts our relationship with people who stay true to us and help us in improving but most of the time we are likely to give up on them because truth is harder to digest. Faith also comes with the truth. The road to faith is barricaded with self introspection.

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.

Confrontation with truth gives you an transience anger – ‘She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.’ I think truth is an extreme emotion. It surely creates turmoil in our lives. The moment we are confronted with our truth (here about degrading physical appearances) we tend to visit it over and over again only to pursue it to change into something that we can accept – ‘I am important to her. She comes and goes.’  ‘Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness’–  the woman visits lake each morning. With her, lake begins the day. 

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises towards her day after day, like a terrible fish.

The life of the woman depends so much on the mirror/lake that he has now become an integral part of her life. In the lake her youth and old age has been drowned. This senescence takes the shape of the fish and rises towards her in a sense that growing old is scary and moment she is confronted with it, her life becomes miserable. 

Poem copyright holder – Sylvia Plath.

Analysis by Sameera Mansuri. | All rights reserved.