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Reflections on “Mirror” and “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath

Reflections on “Mirror” and “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath


by Sylvia Plath

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 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.

In Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror,” we are addressed by an inanimate object, which sets out to define itself and its function and does so with the exactitude that is a part of its nature. It has no preconceptions because it is without memory or an ability to reason. It is omnivorous and swallows everything it confronts without making judgments that might blur, mist or distort. It is god-like in its objectivity and its incapability of emotional response. Most of the time it meditates on the opposite wall faithfully reproducing its colors and design until darkness supervenes or faces intrude. and these happenstances recur with regularity.

In stanza two the mirror becomes a perfectly reflecting lake unruffled by any disturbance. A woman bends over the lake like the mythological Narcissus, but no matter how deeply she searches she sees only her actuality or surface truth. Unlike Narcissus, the woman can not fall in love with what she sees. The candles and moon to which the woman turns are liars capable of lending untruthful shadows and romantic highlights, unlike the lake surface/mirror, which renders only faithful images. Unhappy with what she sees, the woman weeps and wrings her hands in agitation. The youth and beauty once reflected during the person’s morning visits are now swallowed and drowned in the metaphorical depths of the lake, and what slowly surfaces from those depths is the terrifying fact of aging, so graphically rendered by the simile of a fish.


I’m a riddle in nine syllables,

An elephant, a ponderous house,

A melon strolling on two tendrils.

O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!

This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.

Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.

I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.

I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,

Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

In “Metaphors” the poet or speaker of the poem holds up a different sort of mirror to herself–one that allows full-length representation and subsurface penetration. Just as the mirror of the first poem becomes metaphorically a lake, the speaker here becomes a series of objects or creatures that reflect a pregnant woman. The term of a normal pregnancy is repeatedly reflected in the number of lines in the poem and the number of syllables in each line. It is no accident that the poem’s title is a nine-letter word as are the words “syllables” that concludes line one and “ponderous” in line two. The riddle is easily solved. Forgive me for stating the obvious. The woman feels elephantine because of her increased weight and girth. She’s as big as a clichéd house and her body has become an object in which a separate being dwells. Her melon-shaped gravidity makes her legs seem by comparison like slender tendrils. The red fruit is the fetus, the ivory (reminiscent of the earlier elephant) perhaps the child’s skin or the child’s precious bones which are also compared to fine timbers. The yeasty rising loaf is the commonly referred to bun in the oven. The fat purse is the woman’s belly stuffed with the precious cargo of newly minted and still uncirculated money. The woman feels she has lost her own identity in becoming a means for reproduction or a stage on which a dramatic production is about to debut. The bag of green apples she ate have caused abdominal swelling demanding release. The train is a metaphor for her pregnancy–a non-stop journey with a destination bespeaking joy and relief.