This week I learnt Mirror by Sylvia Plath. Here I am reciting this poem from memory.
Free and Easy
Although it is written in free verse I found it much easier to learn than other poems. I have always liked this poem. The poem is very sure of itself. The poem is the mirror speaking and the structure of the poem reflects this, with a symmetrical form.
Yet at the same time, all is not as it seems. It reflects everything “just as it is” but how can you reflect on the inner worlds and the outer worlds? The woman rewards the mirror with tears and an agitation of hands for its faithfulness. This is what the mirror thinks. But perhaps the mirror cannot see the real reason for the woman’s distress.
Can you look yourself in the mirror?
“At least I can look myself in the mirror…” is an expression we often hear. It means that I, unlike other people, have respected my integrity. I am able to look at myself in the mirror. Maybe some people can look at themselves physically in the mirror but they never hold that mirror up to their inner self. And notice that we say the mirror and not a mirror. This mirror is the mirror you look in at home.
The two stanzas reflect each other. They are mirror images. The stanzas contain no obvious beats or rhymes. There is no real feeling of certainty or reward. This is in contrast to the very sure way in which the mirror speaks about itself.
This poem sounds very nice, it sounds so natural and effortless. Here is Sylvia Plath talking about the poets she likes : “The poets I delight in are possessed by their poems as by the rhythms of their own breathing. Their finest poems seem born all-of-a-piece, not put together by hand; certain poems in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, for instance; Theodore Roethke’s greenhouse poems; some of Elizabeth Bishop and a very great deal of Stevie Smith (‘Art is a wild cat and quite seperate from civilisation’).”
Inner and Outer selves
It is a beautiful little poem which can stand as it is without too much explanation. However, knowing Plath’s life and her outward appearance as a polite and decorous woman and her lively, raging inner creative self we can also imagine this piece as a meditation on the hidden selves inside all of us. The difference between our inner and outer appearances. The woman comes to the mirror every morning. She searches its reaches for what she really is.
The mirror itself is not as fixed as it claims to be. In the second stanza it transforms into a lake…
And in the final line we can see that the mirror holds within itself a monster.
You can hear Sylvia Plath’s voice reading Tulips here.
How I say it
I say the poem in as simple a fashion as possible. Strangely enough as I recorded it my phone got stuck. You can hear the poem but the face is immobile.
Technical glitch that actually serves 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 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.
By Sylvia Plath.