Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Mirror,” deftly uses symbolism, figurative language, and imagery to convey a theme of introspection and self-realization.
The first sign that this deeper meaning is evident in the poem is the fact that the speaker of the poem is evidently a mirror: an inanimate object that should be incapable of thought, let alone speech. Plath’s use of anthropomorphic language begins in the opening line:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
From this opening line, it's obvious that the mirror is not only conscious; it's almost entirely consciousness. It's rational, but possesses no human emotion. Instead, it demonstrates a knack for speaking in poetic language with metaphor, symbol, and imagery conveying meaning and mood.
The mirror asserts:
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
The mirror is a symbol for a form of consciousness that's larger than anything it observes. It exists on a plane of absolute honesty. In a case of double metaphor, Plath turns the speaking mirror into a figurative eye of a god, showing clearly, that the speaker of the poem is not a literal mirror, but a deep consciousness: the artistic mind, the imagination -- or, if you prefer, the unconscious.
The poem’s second most prominent symbol is a lake. Plath writes in lines ten through eleven that the woman of the poem looks into the lake with the purpose of self-discovery:
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
The reality that the woman is searching for has already been revealed by the mirror to the reader in the first stanza. Being unable to disguise reality, or to lie about it, the reflective capacity of the unconscious simply sees the searching woman for what she is: a mortal who will age and die.
The final image of the poem: that of the woman’s face, aged to a frightening state, rising toward her peering eyes like a fish from the bottom of the lake, is another use of double metaphor. Plath compares the reflected image of the old woman to a “terrible fish.”
While time has transformed the woman; the speaker of the poem has been left unchanged. The poetic consciousness lives on while the earthly ego must experience age and death.
I think "Mirror" is one of Plath's best symbolist efforts. Do you agree?