A Poem by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2010
Type of Work and Year of Publication
......."Mirror" is a lyric poem in free verse. Sylvia Plath wrote the poem in 1961. The London firm of Faber and Faber Ltd. published it in 1971, eight years after her death, as part of a collection entitled Crossing the Water. The New York firm of Harper & Row published the collection later in the same year.
.......If you want to know the truth, be as objective and detached as a mirror. It reflects exactly what it sees without hiding flaws. Whether you are evaluating an actor's performance, a meatloaf recipe, a religion, a political system, a Miss America candidate, a scientific theory, or yourself or another person, you must be "unmisted by love or dislike" (line 3).
.......Speaking to the reader, a mirror hanging on a wall says it reflects exactly what it sees. It is not being cruel when it reveals the flaws of the person looking into it, the mirror says. Rather, it is simply being truthful. With proper illumination, it sees everything in front of it. In this respect,
it is like a "little god," it says.
.......The mirror says it is now a lake. A woman comes by each morning to look into it to examine herself. As she ages, she dislikes what she sees in the lake. But she comforts herself with the insincere flattery of others and the magic of age-banishing cosmetics. (The moon and candles mentioned in line 12 symbolize the false compliments and the cosmetics, for they cast only dim light that does not reveal flaws.) Meanwhile, each time she looks into the lake old age and death rise toward "like a terrible fish" (line 18).
Plath wrote the poem in first-person point of view. The speaker is a mirror, which tells the reader what it reflects. In the second stanza, it becomes a lake. For further information see Summary, above.
The poem is in free verse, a type of poetry with rhythms based on words patterns rather than meter (such as iambic pentameter). Gustave Kahn (1859-1936) and other French poets pioneered this verse form in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
......."Mirror" remains under copyright. However, a book entitled Poetry Reloaded, by Blair Mahoney, has reproduced the poem with permission of the publisher. You can access the page on which the poem appears by clicking here.
Line 1, I am silver and exact: The word silver here refers to the coating on the back of a glass mirror. It can be made with liquefied silver or aluminum applied to a smooth glass plate. A mixture of silver nitrate and ammonium hydroxide can also be used to make the coating.
The most important figure of speech in the poem is personification, in which the mirror—assuming humanlike qualities—speaks to the reader about what it reflects. Examples of other figures of speech in the poem include the following:
Alliteration, line 2: Whatever I see, I swallow immediately