Mirror by Sylvia Plath cover image

Mirror by Sylvia Plath: In-Depth Analysis and Meaning

“No bully is worse than the one we create in our head.” This line has a powerful meaning which tells us that it doesn’t matter if other people talk ill about us, when a voice in our head starts doing the same there is no any going back. How we look at ourselves in the mirror or what we feel about our bodies matters a lot. The poem Mirror by Sylvia Plath tackles and explores the same.

“Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is a poem about a mirror that always tells her the truth and has never been dishonest with her. The poem was written in 1961 and published in the year of 1963. Plath tries to tell us about the changes a person experiences as they grow old, and how challenging it can be for someone to accept the truth.

Mirror

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.
- Sylvia Plath

Meaning and Summary

“Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is a two-stanza poem where she describes her insecurities through a mirror and it seems that she is not happy about the way the mirror shows her. In the first stanza, the poet describes the properties of the mirror. And, after reading the first line we understand that the poem is written from the perspective of a mirror.

The mirror describes itself physically as silver-colored and precise and it does not have any assumed image of anyone, whatever it sees it takes in, and does not have any dishonest feelings toward anyone. The mirror is not “cruel” or mean, it is simply “truthful” and honest”. The mirror compares itself to the little eye of God.

The “little eye of God, four-cornered” shows that it can see it the four directions all at the same time. The mirror is just a way of seeing what the person is. It does not embellishes anyone with falseness. It shows the reality. How people take it depends on them.

The mirror that is speaking hangs on a wall, and opposite to it is another wall, as most mirrors have. The wall is pink in color, with flickers that shows the house has aged. Reflecting the wall for so long, the mirror thinks that it is a part of it now. If you think about it, when someone is not standing in front of the mirror, it is a pink wall with freckles.

The mirror calls itself a lake now and this is where we get to know that the speaker of this poem is not one particular object, but anything that reflects and can show someone clearly. The lake is a mirror with its calm, stagnant water. This is also the part where we are introduced to the woman, who is Plath herself.

The Lake tells us a lot about Plath, the mysterious woman that comes and goes everyday to look at her reflection. It is clear that she does not like what she sees. The Lake shows her the clearest, unadulterated image of herself. But that does not matter because she does not want to see it.

She turns to candles and the moon, both of them are called a “liar” because their light lies. They cover the woman in a blanket of darkness, and only show what she wants to see. This woman would prefer to take the lies than face the truth.

She “rewards” the lake with tears and agitations of her hands. But what is it that she does not like? At the last two lines, the lake says what he has seen over the years. The woman was once a young girl, happy to see her face in the lake, but now she has aged, and with age comes the disintegration of beauty. The absence of beauty in the presence of truth is what makes her seek lies.

Analysis of the Poem

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 first line is the voice of a mirror speaking directly to the readers. The mirror describes itself as silver-colored with no preconceptions or assumptions about anyone. It is honest and it swallows anything that it sees. The mirror is someone without any filter of judgment. It reflects whatever it sees without being partial. It does not favor you, it does not chide you. It shows you, the real you.

The mirror has no feelings for anyone and therefore it just reflects the honest image of anyone that looks into it.

I am not cruel, only truthful‚

The eye of a little god, four-cornered

The mirror is not mean, harsh, or cruel but truthful and honest. Sometimes, people might not like what they see when they look at themselves in the mirror but the mirror is not responsible for it. Because it is blunt and genuine, people might not be ready to see or take the truth at once. The mirror acts like a little eye of the “God” with four corners.

The four corners describe the entirety of the mirror, that it has its eyes everywhere just like God. It can see in all the four directions.

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.

The mirror tells us about its position in the house. Most of the time it sees a pink-colored wall with speckles. And it seems that the wall has become a part of his heart. But it fades away sometimes because of people or darkness. In these lines we understand that all the mirror sees is a wall, faces of people, and darkness. When people or darkness sands in the sight of a mirror it separates it from the pink wall. 

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.

A woman leans on the surface of the lake and looks inside deeply to find out who she is on the inside. She does not like what she sees, and it hurts her so much that she prefers to live in the darkness of lies. She turns to the “liars”, candles and moon whose light can be very deceptive, hiding what you really look like. But she finds comfort in them.

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.

While the liars attract the woman, the mirror is truthful and faithful. It shows her the real face, what she is and what she has become. But in return all he gets is tears and disapproval. She does not like what the mirror show. She does not like the truth. But there is a part of her that wants to accept the truth, perhaps she cannot believe what she sees and hence continues to make trips back to the lake.

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.

She comes every morning, when the lies of the moonlight and candlelight fades away. When there are no liars around, she wants to see the truth. Then we get to know why the woman prefers the lies to the truth. We get to see what the woman sees. She looks at the lake and sees an old woman.

The young girl that she was has drowned metaphorically in the lake and she is never going to see that reflection of her ever again because she is no more. But, all she sees is an old woman that rises every day. The woman does not want to accept it but the reflection in the daylight tells the truth. It does not matter how much she tries to hide from it, she has become old, the young girl in her has drowned in herself, and now she is what she sees.

The woman does not want to accept what she has become now, she knows that she does not look the same anymore, she is not the younger self and she is terrified by the older woman that the mirror reflects. However, deep within she knows she is the same, the same self she was, then why is it that she cannot see herself?

Themes

The theme of the “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is honesty, appearance vs identity, aging, and self-acceptance. In the poem, the mirror is personified and it appears to be someone who is blunt, genuine, and impartial. It truly reflects whatever it sees, and seems that it’s not concerned about what other people feel. It is something non- judgemental.

The mirror is so honest that it hurts the women. She sees what she has become and then shuns the truth. She turns towards the deceptive light of the moon and the candles. The mirror is a little eye of God, which always tells the truth.

The only thing that the mirror sees is the darkness and the pink wall which is a part of its heart and face. Mostly the face of a woman who comes to his time and again to look at what she has become, to look at what she is inside. The mirror is honest, but is the woman honest to herself?

The woman who is not so moved by her appearance anymore goes to the mirror to find her identity. Indirectly, the poet is trying to tell us that the mirror only reflects what we are on the surface, but are we just that? A person is so much more inside than what they appear to be.

The woman does not like the fact that she is changing, and she thinks that her younger self who had a better appearance has drowned in the lake, and no matter how deep she looks inside the lake, the younger self is not looking back at her.

The only reflection she sees is that of an old woman. She does not like what she sees in the mirror, but it is not because the mirror is trying to hurt her, it just reflects what it sees. And it confuses her, she knows she is young inside but then why isn’t that reflected in the mirror? 

Aging is something that the woman is not able to accept. She does not want to see how she appears in the mirror. It seems that the mirror is telling her that it is not being dishonest but rather it is just a surface that reflects whatever he sees, be it darkness or the pink wall, it is just truthful and blunt.

Here comes the self-acceptance part where the woman does not accept herself. If she cannot accept herself the way she is then how will society accept her? This makes her prone to others’ criticisms, words, and taunts. She is vulnerable because she does not accept who she is.

The woman feels that her appearance is everything, she tries to objectify herself, thinking that she will not be valued anymore if she looks old and aged. However, she is also aware that within she feels the same, her soul is not old, it is young as new then why should she bother about how she looks?

The mirror is the most important thing in a woman’s life but no matter how beautiful she appears to be in the mirror she is only going to accept it only if she feels beautiful from within, only if she accepts herself the way she is and not compare herself with anyone else. 

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the poem include:

Enjambment – Enjambment forces the readers to move to the next line to read the unfinished previous line. For example:

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

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

Personification – The poet has personified the mirror, where it speaks for itself. It is the mirror that tells us about its limitation to just reflect what is visible. The candles and moon are also personified as they are called “liars”.

Metaphor – The poet uses a metaphor to describe something with comparison as it draws the attention of the readers. For example:

The eye of a little god, four-cornered

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

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

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

Conclusion

“Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is like a mirror to us. It tells us that it is not only the outer appearance that we should accept or care about, what is more important is how we feel about ourselves, what is our perspective about us and how we present ourselves to other people.

This poem is an eye opener for people to accept the way we are, and not be misguided by how a mirror reflects us. The mirror, though is truthful and honest at the end of the day it’s just a piece of glass, not something that reflects what we are on the inside. 

I believe that we should not let other things overpower the way we feel, and the way we look. Everyone is going to become old someday, but our soul is going to be young forever, it is going to be as beautiful as it was.

It is better to accept the harsh truth than seeking comforting lies. There is nothing that would help us if we lived in a world where everything is pleasurable, according to us, but everything is made-up, fake, and full of lies. It is a world that should be discarded.

Therefore, beauty is something within, something more intensive than its meaning, and the sooner we understand that and start looking at people by not how they appear, then the world is going to become a better place to live in.

Read More

Similar Posts