Explication of “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath

“Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is a poem narrated from the perspective of a mirror. Within this poem, there is a clash between truth and perception. This idea is first presented through the form of the stanzas where the mirror is “silver and exact” (Plath 1) then when the mirror is “now [… ] a lake” (10). The poem then illustrates how even the truthful mirror has preconceptions. Then finally how the woman, who comes every morning to look in the mirror often deludes herself with “those liars, the candles or the moon” (12) and fails to see the truth.

In the first stanza, the mirror is reflecting upon itself and says, “Whatever I see I swallow immediately/ Just as it is” (2-3). The mirror will always reflect back what it is shown; the cold, hard truth. Being awfully proud and arrogant, the mirror describes itself as “The eye of a little god” (5). This is ironic because the mirror has just been talking about how it is exact, with “no preconceptions” but it seems to already have a preconceived idea of itself. In the second stanza, the mirror says “Now I am a lake” (10) when a woman looks into it.

Mirrors and lakes are two very different things. One produces an exact image; while the other is more unsettling and complicated, containing more depth. The lake will reflect not only the outer appearance and perspective of the woman, it will show the unavoidable truth within her. The woman occasionally deceives herself with “the candles or the moon” (12) as candles often flicker, altering our perceptions on things. But after all those delusions, she can rely on the lake to “reflect [her] faithfully” (13).

The lake believes that “She rewards [it] with tears and an agitation of hands. /[It] is important to her. She comes and goes” (14-15) which is yet another preconception. The lake does not see that the tears are tears of sorrow, yet recognizes it as some sort of reward. It also thinks that it is important to her, yet the woman is just using it to search for her true identity. She doesn’t really care about the mirror, she comes merely for the purpose of seeing herself and the mirror is just a tool.

In the last two lines of this poem, the mirror says “in me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (17-18). The young girl that used to look into the lake has turned into an old woman and every day, that reflection is changing. The woman is no longer fooled by the preconceptions, but sees a bit more of the truth within the lake day after day. The terrible fish is used as a metaphor for the dark, ugly truth within every single person that we often do not see.

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