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October 18, 2012

Yesterday’s discussion (in the comments) of a poem made me think of another poem, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath. Perhaps it surfaced in my mind because of everything I was reading about the whole “binders full of women” fuss and associated comments on how ludicrously out of touch it is to believe that flex time means you let a woman go home in time to cook dinner and take care of the kids (while presumably you laugh at a man who would dare to say he needs to do the same thing).

In the same curiously detached way some people wonder if some of Abraham Lincoln’s characteristics could be attributed to a disease like Marfan’s syndrome, I wonder if Sylvia Plath would be happier living today–because it seems to me that there are fewer women who rely solely on a mirror to tell “what she really is.” On the other hand, though, seeing ourselves ageing does strike most of us—male and female—as “cruel.”


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you 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.

The sense of being still—in this case, of seeing the world as a mirror might—gives you a different, sterner perspective on the kinds of actions a person takes every day. The line “I am important to her” is the most interesting line in the poem, to me. Perhaps the mirror is an unreliable narrator, caught up, as most of us are, in a sense of its own importance. Or maybe, in its fixed position, it is observing how frequently the woman is drawn to it.

Staying still for a while—being forced to “meditate on the opposite wall,” for instance—blocks out the sound and fury that people usually surround themselves with. I like the final image of this poem—submerging, going underwater, the sudden quiet.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012 10:45 am

    I don’t know that Plath would have been any happier today – she certainly would have led a different life, and I’m not sure that it would have suited her any better. Can you imagine Plath as a blogger?

  2. October 18, 2012 10:54 am

    Thank you.

    • October 19, 2012 7:22 am

      Glad to oblige with the immediate poem satisfaction!

  3. October 18, 2012 11:33 am

    As I grow older people keep telling me I look more and more like my Mom. It’s an honor to hear that, but it also makes me miss her.

    • October 19, 2012 7:25 am

      The way she looked is a fixed position, so another kind of mirror.
      Your mom was evidently quite pretty.

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