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.
In this poem Sylvia Plath tells the story of a woman’s life from an onlooker and a companion, a mirror. This mirror is an interesting narrator because, as it states in the first line it is exact with no preconceptions. It sees only what physically and visibly exists, and it tells exactly what it sees.
Before readers are introduced the woman, the mirror supplies some background information on itself. It addresses a common misconception about itself and its kind (yes, I’m sure we have all, on countless occasions, heard frustrated woman speak bitterly of those evil devices that reflect their own appearances), stating that it is “not cruel, only truthful.” Of course, a mirror hanging on a wall never sets out to offend or lie to a woman who seeks what it can show, however; this is not to state that the woman’s own twisted perceptions will be similarly kind and truthful. In this sense, a mirror is actually quite limited, for it can only reflect what one sees in oneself, not the view taken by the rest of the world. Though it may see things as “unmisted,” this level of clarity is available to it alone, the impartial observer, and it swallows it up within itself, never to reveal the secrets of its exact vision to mankind.
When the woman she enters, she looks down into her mirror, hoping it will reflect back a beauty pleasing enough for her critical eye. She is clearly dissatisfied, turns away, and begins to cry. Day after day she returns to the mirror, hoping for some new improvement but leaving equally tormented. The mirror believes that it is important to the woman, but it is clear to readers that the mirror is merely a prop to her; it gives to her what she really holds in high esteem: her own appearance. The last lines of the poem show that as the woman goes back to the mirror more and more, she wastes away in front of it, losing any possibility of realizing the beauty she once had.