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Remembering Sylvia Plath on Her 88th Birth Anniversary

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I am a research scholar at University of Delhi, India. I love to read and write.

Here’s the beautiful poem ‘Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath

I 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 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 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

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Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

This beautiful, two stanza poems, was written in 1961 by Sylvia Plath, a famous American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. She wrote this poem during her first post-pregnancy time. This was the time when she herself entered into middle age and experienced motherhood. The poem has a deep metaphor, mirroring the era where women were supposed to remain dutiful towards the household chores and family needs. But the woman in the poem has her own dreams and aspirations she wanted to be more than a wife or a mother. She desires to have her own identity and wants to reveal her innermost feelings. In this poem, Sylvia chooses the most common everyday object mirror, personified it, and endowed it with a human trait. She has put perspective to it, assuming things that were not a part of common thinking. Here, mirror is the speaker in the poem who has the ability to recognise boredom and loneliness. It has the power to recognise the anxiety in its owner who is grappling with the reality of her aging. The poem explores the life of a woman who is getting older. It reflects the truthfulness of an object. The mirror is exact which means it simply shows what it sees, transmits whatever it receives without any alteration. It has no capacity to judge or even flatter us. It does not care what one feels over his or her mirror reflection, either way, the poem says ‘It is ‘not cruel, only truthful’. However, when the owner is not in the room, it simply reflects the loneliness of walls and corners. At this time the world is stationary, but when women enter the room and come to the mirror to see her reflection in it then the world which is mirrored is complex, full of emotions, and vivid.

It reflects an image of a woman who is struggling with the loss of her beauty, confessing each day that she is growing older. When the mirror found dissatisfaction and sadness in the women over her reflection, the mirror (become a lack in the second stanza) called candles and the moon liars as they did not show the woman her true self, alter her true image and flatter her. But the mirror did not choose to appease her with falsities, it only reflects truth and thereby a superior friend. The poem also shows a woman's dependency on the mirror, though she often deceives herself with the flattering "liars" candlelight and moonlight but at the same time, she constantly returns to the unapologetically honest mirror to discover her true self. She urgently needs a mirror to provide an objective, unadulterated reflection of self, despite the fact that it often causes discomfort inside her and brings tears to her eyes. A mirror helps her to make a distinction between her exterior and interior lives. It helps her to meditate between a "false" outer self of appearance and a "true" inner self. The mirror is used as a symbol to reproduce the poet’s own emotions and states. It is an unusual and unique piece that lets us meet our true self, unconstrained even by personal conceptions.

Her Story

Sylvia Plath was born on 27 October 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. She is credited with propelling the class of confession poetry and most known for her work Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In 1982, she was awarded a Posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems. The Bell Jar is her another well-known contribution which is a semi-autobiographical novel, she wrote shortly before her demise. However, it is unfortunate that this author has to suffer much due to depression, which leads her to commit suicide in 1963. She was born into an educated family. Where her father Otto Emil Plath (1885–1940) was an entomologist and professor of biology and German at Boston University, had authored a book about bumblebees, her mother Aurelia Schober Plath (1906–1994), was a first-generation American of Austrian descent, was earning her master’s degree in teaching when she met and married Sylvia father. When Sylvia was still a child, she published her first poem in the Boston Herald's children's section at the tender age of eight. She had lost her father after a week of her eighth birthday. He died because of untreated diabetes.


Later she graduated from Bradford Senior High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1950 and then joined Smith College. She excelled academically and got an opportunity to edit The Smith Review and Mademoiselle Magazine. She had to go through electroconvulsive therapy for depression. She made her first medically documented suicide attempt in late August 1953, when she took an overdose of her mother's sleeping pills. But luckily, she survived and had to remain under psychiatric care for six months. Here, she had to bear more electric and insulin shock treatment under the care of Dr. Ruth Beuscher, at McLean Hospital. She made a good recovery and in 1955 successfully submitted her PhD thesis. She won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge where she spent much of her time in writing and publishing her poetry in the student newspaper Varsity. Her stay at McLean Hospital inspired her to write a novel “The Bell Jar”.

In 1956 She married Ted Hughes who was also a poet. They became parents of two children but their marriage did not last long and they separated in 1962. She met Ted Hughes, at a party in Cambridge, UK, it was love at first sight and after four-month, they became a married couple. She joined Smith as a teacher but found it difficult to save time for her writing. In 1958 the couple came to live in Boston where Plath began to work as a receptionist in the psychiatric unit of Massachusetts General Hospital. After which in the evening she used to attend creative writing seminars of poet Robert Lowell. Here she was inspired to write on her own experience. Her first poetry collection, Colossus, was published in 1960 and received favourable reviews. In 1959 Hughes was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, and the couple returned to England, where they became a parent of their first child. The second child came into their life at a house in Devon and had a second child in 1962, this was the same year when Plath found Hughes had been having an affair with a lady named Assia Gutman and the couple got separated. Following this Plath came up with a burst of creativity in writings. She with her two children began to live in a rented apartment in London. Here, she began to live on antidepressants and was regularly visited by Dr. John Horder, who was also a close friend of hers. A nurse was appointed to keep an eye on her as well as to help her in taking care of her children. On 11 February 1963 when a nurse in the morning entered into the house with the help of others, Plath was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, but before that, she did not forget to take measure to protect her children sleeping in another room, she sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet towels and cloths. At the age of just 30, she left this world.

Plath’s son Nicholas Hughes, too, committed suicide on 16th March 2009 at his home in Alaska, after a history of depression.


VAISHALI (author) from INDIA on November 04, 2020:

True sir

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 04, 2020:

A promising life cut so short. Some people cannot are unable to cope with realities in their lives and die young. I really feel sorry for them.

VAISHALI (author) from INDIA on November 04, 2020:

Thank you mam

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 04, 2020:

Vaishali, WELCOME to HubPages. Thanks you for sharing information on the life and work of Sylvia Plath. I admire her brilliance and her devotion to writing. So sorry that she succumbed to her depression. Without loving support, it is hard for anyone to survive that situation.

femi from Nigeria on November 03, 2020:

Mental health issues and depression are serrious problem at least a quater of world population deal with daily,however only a handful are suicidal. It is a pity she chose to go out that way and even more tragic the son.

VAISHALI (author) from INDIA on October 29, 2020:

thank you Rodric Anthony

VAISHALI (author) from INDIA on October 29, 2020:

Thank you, sir

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 29, 2020:

Hello Vaishali, thank you for sharing the wonderful poem, “Mirror” and the analysis. Also, the tragic story of Sylvia Plath’s life. This was a wonderful article.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on October 27, 2020:

This is a great profile though it ends in the tragic deaths of Sylvia Plath due to suicide. It is a great memorial to her life to recount her life and honor her work. It shows that artists go throw life like everyone else, but some of them use their tragedy to create memorable pieces of art history.

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