‘Mirror’ is a short, two-stanza poem written by Sylvia Plath in 1961. Composed in the first person, it can be described as free verse, because there is no rhyme, scheme or meter. The personification figure of speech follows throughout, as the mirror takes on human-like qualities by becoming the speaker of the poem. Plath’s composition describes the mirror’s point of view, as it addresses themes of ageing and time, with a woman looking at her reflection in the ‘protagonist’ 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.
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.”
Plath’s writing is a reflection of her emotions at the time she composed ‘Mirror’. She was living with her fellow poet and husband Ted Hughes, and had given birth to their first child. This was a stressful time for her as a new mother and she dreaded the idea of growing old and settling down. As she wrote, “I am afraid of getting older. I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from the relentless cage of routine and rote.” ‘Mirror’ is an exploration of her uncertain self, with her hallmark stamp of powerful language, sharp imagery, dark undertones, and great depth.
By using a mirror and lake to highlight the significance of one’s reflection, Plath brings to attention the obsession with one’s physical features, and the inner turmoil caused as the ageing process picks up it’s pace. Plath’s own struggle with retaining her youth, reflects in her writing which implies the face in the mirror must always stay young – that youth symbolizes beauty and perfection.
Written just two years before the poet’s suicide, ‘Mirror’ contains many autobiographical elements reflective of her state of mind. Though written in 1961, ‘Mirror’ was published ten years after Plath’s death, when it appeared in the book ‘Crossing The River’ which Ted Hughes posthumously got published.