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Mirror
A Poem by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Theme
Summary
Point of View
Verse Form
Text of the Poem
Notes and Comments
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography of Plath
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2010
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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.

Theme

.......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). 

Summary

Stanza 1

.......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 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. 

Stanza 2

.......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).

Point of View

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.

Verse Form

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.

Text of the Poem

......."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

Notes and Comments

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 it.
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.

Figures of Speech

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 the following:

Alliteration, line 2: Whatever I see, I swallow immediately
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."

Study Questions and Writing Topics

  • Can the poem be interpreted as applying to outmoded ideas as well as to an aging appearance? Explain your answer.
  • Write a short poem that personifies an object.
  • 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 persons.

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