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Sylvia Plath MirrorI 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 the 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 longI 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 faithfullyShe 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 womanRises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

holy literary devices batman

“Holy literary devices, Batman!”

“Literary devices” are the tools a critic uses to make it easier to talk about a poem, not

so different from the gadgetry Batman uses to fight crime! Poetry makes you like Batman.

  • Mental pictures, painted from words
  • Poems are visual spaces, where meaning is often derived from the figurative rather than the literal. Images in poetry are rarely just for pleasant description.
  • Images are symbolically dense and can carry complex messages and associations.

“A hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.”

Arthur Rimbaud, “After the Flood”

  • A thing describing some other thing.
  • Assigns a tangible image or description to an abstract concept or emotion.
  • Makes the unexplainable understandable and the ordinary extraordinary.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”

T.S. Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

“My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare.”

David Bowie, “Five Years”

  • The attribution of human characteristics to an object, animal, or emotion.

Ex. The old house sighed.

The saxophone howled.

That bacon avocado sandwich really called out to me.

  • a reference in a literary work to a person, place, or thing in history or another work of literature
  • summarizes broad, complex ideas or emotions in one quick, powerful image

“He wore his love for his woman like a thorny crown.”

Paul Simon, “Slip Sliding Away”



-A point of thematic shift or division in a poem.

-The fulcrum

-Often denotes a transition from question to answer or from problem to solution.


Scavenger Hunt!

In a group of two or three, revisit Plath’s “The Mirror” armed with these literary devices. Find three occurrences of any of the devices throughout the poem; be specific and find a line to quote. Additionally, take a stab at explaining why Plath might have chosen to employ the technique. How is she using it?

Take ten minutes or so.




Allusion (hint: think mythological)


i am silver and exact i have no preconceptions line 1
“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.” (Line 1)
  • Who is talking? What’s going on?
  • Why would Plath choose to play with perspective?
i have looked at it so long i think it is a part of my heart ln 7 8
“I have looked at it so long/I think it is a part of my heart” (ln. 7-8)

What does this line say about appearance?

The mirror is still speaking, but does this apply to the woman?

If appearance changes, what happens to this “part of [the] heart?”

faces and darkness separate us over and over ln 9
“Faces and darkness separate us over and over.” (ln. 9)

“Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.” (ln. 16)

“Over and over” suggests continuity

and perhaps even monotony.

The image of the woman’s face passing

by the mirror evokes a visual similar

to the movement of the moon, also

giving a reference point for the consistent

and unwavering passage of time.

now i am a lake a woman bends over me line 10
“Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.” (line 10)

Allusion to Narcissus: Young, gorgeous, and… DEAD!

SO taken with his own reflection that he could not leave. He starved to death.

Does the myth change how we might read:“In me she has drowned a young girl,” (17)?

searching my reaches for what she really is ln 11
“Searching my reaches for what she really is.” (ln. 11)

Mirror Versus Lake:How are the two different?

The lake has volume and depth; things are obscured beneath the surface of the lake.

The reflective surface of the lake constantly shifts around, warping the image.

The shortcomings of the mirror reveal the reality of an internal self that is not visible.

How far through the poem does this shift occur?

“In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old womanrises towards her day after day, like a terrible fish.” (ln. 17-18)

Wait, she killed someone!?

Nah. Let’s summon one of our classroom friends to help us out:

“Plath writes from the perspective of a mirror. The old lady is constantly using the mirror to judge herself. The mirror may be able to judge someone’s aging by looks, but it can’t judge internal aging.

A mirror cannot judge someone’s character or feelings. While the old lady is suffering

over aging by staring at herself in the mirror, the

mirror realizes that, “In me…” […] The old lady

Is judging herself off what she looks like and not

by the way she acts or feels. Plath demonstrates

how easy it is to misjudge yourself.”

The drowning represents the death of living

under society’s construct of beauty, a norm.

The second half suggests an apprehension

towards the mystery and inevitably of what

will surface.