‘Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath : A Summary

Last updated on August 25th, 2020 at 09:08 am

In the second stanza, Sylvia Plath introduces a new element to the poem. She changes the narrator from the rectangular mirror, meditating on the opposite wall, to a lake. The surface of a still lake can act as a mirror.  Hence, although the narrator’s form has changed, its function hasn’t. It is still a reflecting surface.

A woman bends over the lake trying to see her reflection in the water. The poet has used the word ‘searching’ to imply that the woman is not merely looking but peering with concentration, trying to observe every detail of the reflection. It is as if she is trying to find her true self in the reaches of the lake.

Candlelight and moonlight can often hide the imperfections in one’s face. They are thus not accurate or truthful. Hence the narrator calls them liars. The woman is apparently not happy with her reflection by daylight. So she tries to see her reflection by candlelight or moonlight.

As the woman turns around, the lake faithfully reflects her back.

But even though, the lake performs its duty as a mirror, the woman is not pleased with what she sees. She feels sad and angry, thus leading to ‘tears and an agitation of hands’.

Sad, because she is growing old and angry, because she is unable to do anything about it.

Being reminded of her advancing age everyday by her reflection in the lake only brings these feelings to the surface thus leading to the tears and ‘agitation of hands’.

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Although she is unable to accept the reflection she sees in the lake, she cannot resist the urge to return to it. Hence the narrator says that it is ‘important to her’. She unfailingly visits the lake every morning. It is almost like an addiction for her.

The woman has looked at her reflection in the lake from a very young age. As she grew older, her face gradually lost its youth. Thus, everyday the reflection of her youthful face gradually changed until she wasn’t young any more.

It is as if the young girl that the woman once was has drowned in the lake. Please note that the narrator does not mean that the young girl has literally drowned. Her reflection has changed from that of a young girl to an older woman, and this has been likened to the young girl drowning.

But the process of aging continues unabated. She is slowly turning into an old woman. The change is reflected in the waters of the lake when she goes there every morning. This slow but definite change has been compared by the narrator to a slowly rising fish from the depths of the lake.

A fish that is at a great depth will appear indistinct and far away, almost unreal. However as it slowly starts to swim upwards it will gradually appear closer and more and more discernible. Similarly, when one is young, old age seems distant and vague. However, as one grows older, old age slowly comes closer and becomes more and more evident. Sylvia Plath has thus used a powerful simile here.

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Now why is the word ‘terrible’ used before the fish? It is probably because the woman fears old age and its associated challenges, and thus the rising fish is ‘terrible’. Hope you enjoyed reading Mirror Summary by Sylvia Plath.

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