Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Year of Publication
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.
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).
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 spends
most of its time looking at a pink wall across from it. It is as if the
wall has become part of itits heart. From
time to time, people pass in front of the wall, making it seem as if the
wall is flickering.
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
of the Poem
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
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.
Line 3, unmisted:
Not influenced; not prejudiced.
Line 5, eye:
The reflecting surface.
Line 8, it flickers:
The wall alternately disappears and reappears as people pass in front of
Line 12, those liars,
the candles or the moon: Because candles and moonlight provide only
dim illumination, they "lie" about what they see. (See Summary,
Stanza 2, for an interpretation of line 12.
The most important figure
of speech in the poem is personification, in which the mirrorassuming
humanlike qualitiesspeaks to the reader about
what it reflects. Examples of other figures of speech in the poem include
2: Whatever I see, I swallow
Metaphor, line 5:
The mirror compares itself to a "little god."
Metaphors, line 12:
The mirror compares false compliments to the light of the moon and efforts
of the woman to hide her signs of aging to the light of candles.
Simile, lines 17-18:
The mirror compares the image of the aging woman to a "terrible fish."
Questions and Writing Topics
Can the poem be interpreted
as applying to outmoded ideas as well as to an aging appearance? Explain
Write a short poem that personifies
Sylvia Plath committed suicide
when she was only thirty. Is there any evidence that she herself was afraid
of aging, like the woman in "Mirror"? (You will need to conduct research
to answer this question.)
Some aging women and men today
frequently undergo facelifts and other procedures to improve their looks.
Write an essay evaluating the pros and cons of cosmetic surgery for older