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‘Mirror’ & double-layered poem Essay

‘Mirror’ is a double-layered poem: The mirror, personified and equipped with senses, sees and depicts its world in the most honest terms; then we see our own world from the mirror’s perspective—how raw and tormenting it is. Why the author chooses to personify a mirror as the poem’s narrator is firstly because it is an object most closely associated with a woman who seeks to see “what she really is” (11). When she is young, the mirror cheerfully reflects and praises her youthful beauty, letting her contemplate on her own appearance.

When she is old, it cruelly reminds her of time’s meddling in her fading beauty and how life has passed and left her behind. Secondly, the mirror reflects the world just as it is—it cannot lie to us—and faithfully shows us all signs of aging, sorrow, pain and sickness that appear in our face. The theme of the poem is the effects of time reflected in the mirror, how it “has drowned a young girl” and makes a woman become “an old woman”. Adverbs depicting the motion of time are employed throughout the poem: “most of the time” (6), “so long” (7), “over and over” (9), “Now” (10), “Each morning” (16), “day after day” (18).

The irony is deliberated in the difference between the mirror’s reflection and cognition of changes in the outside world. The woman who looks at the mirror is sad because her beauty and youthfulness are fading while her tears and agitation are considered “rewards” by the mirror. In the first stanza, the mirror simply tries to define its existence and introduce the reader to its world using its own language register. In the opening line, the mirror describes its appearance and unique quality, “I am silver and exact. I have no preconception. ”(1).

The word ‘swallow’ demonstrates Plath’s sensitivities and playfulness in her personification and imagery: everything is instantly reflected inside the mirror as if the mirror has devoured them. Next, mirror immediately explains its ‘non-discriminatory’ behaviours as being truthful rather than cruel. In the last four lines of stanza 1, the mirror honestly describes its bounded world. Ironically, even though the mirror reflects everything truthfully and exactly with no preconceptions or prejudice, it seems to live in self-created illusions, that the opposite wall is “a part of my heart”.

Line 8 presents the mirror with human characteristics, not “the eye of a little god, four-cornered” as it describes itself. Nevertheless, its world constantly collides with the world outside it—our world: “it flickers. //Faces and darkness separate us over and over. ” In the first stanza, the use of caesura in most of the sentences interrupts the flow of the poem but gives the mirror its own tone: emphatic and meditative. The enjambment between line 2 and 3 as well as between line 7 and 8 allow the mirror to reflect on itself naturally and coherently.

In stanza 2, the mirror ironically creates another illusion, “Now I am a lake” (10), which is in contrast with its claim to be “only truthful”. It proudly demonstrates its usefulness in helping a woman to see “what she really is”. The images of the “candles” and “moon” (12) may symbolize fragility, inconstancy and instability which contrast with how faithfully it serves the woman (13). The connection between the mirror and the woman strengthens by day: it is important to her and she brightens its existence. Nevertheless, its unintended cruelty is shown in its being “only truthful” (4).

The simile ‘like a terrible fish’ is consistent with the mirror’s illusion that it is a lake but it shows Plath’s grotesque and tormenting view of aging—as a destructive and dehumanizing process. The poem is structured as narrative prose poetry, with the use of caesura to create an emphatic tone, to present the mirror as a misunderstood, proud and honest object. The mirror exactly and dutifully reflects what appears before it and considers the changes shown in it others’ doing and completely out of its power: “she drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman//Rises toward her day after day” (17-18).


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