I teach the poem “Mirror” every semester. So I thought that I would try to deformance it and see what I saw–to see if I could see something new within it.

Here is the Full Poem:


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 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 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.

I have had students interpret this poem in many different ways. I had one student connect this poem to the universe and galaxies moving. (I thought that was great!) It gave it a kind of mother earth vibe. We have talked about it as connected to Plath’s depression, as a commentary on aging, as a diatribe on superficiality, but never have I thought of it as a mind splintering into suicidal insanity until today.

First, I wanted to follow the basic patterns that McGann set up in the book. So, I focused on nouns.

Nouns Mirror:

I. I preconceptions.
Whatever I I
it love dislike.
eye god,.
time I wall.
It I it
it heart. it.
Faces darkness us.
I lake. woman me,
reaches what she.
she liars, candles moon.
I back, it.
She me tears agitation hands.
I her. She.
morning it face darkness.
me she girl, me woman
her day day, fish.

The first thing that I noticed is that some of the nouns had started to shift. They started to take on their verb counterparts. No matter how I tried, I wanted to make them verbs. This started to disquiet me. The “reaches” of the lake became the woman reaching out. But she only finds “liars.” When she comes back she is despondent and “tears” at her “hands” or with her “hands” in “agitation” or maybe cries onto her “hands.” The original meaning of “tears” shifts and I can’t bring myself back to it until the end. Then she must “face” the “darkness,” the “darkness” that comes at her during the “morning.” Perhaps it is the despair of living? I knew that all the “I’s” became eyes. But I never felt them before. The blank spaces created the feeling of those “I’s” all upon me staring. Then going back to the end I am finally united with the woman with the repetition of “she me her she me she girl me woman her.” I become disjointed and am part of her and am part of me. I am not sure what to do with the word “fish.” It is like I am left holding something that I do not want. Or perhaps, the fish is out of water, flopping and gasping for air that it can not process.

I decided to go back and remove everything but the verbs.

Verbs Mirror:

am have.
see swallow
is have looked
think is flickers.
am bends
Searching is.
see reflect
am comes goes.
is replaces
has drowned

I was surprised again. The verbs now struggled to become nouns. They were deadened, inactive. The constant repetition of “is” and “am” becomes a confused existential question. Am I here? Do I exist? The verbs were all thoughts or passive actions except for “searching,” “bends,” “separate,” and “turns” but even that is mostly stationary. The verb “drowned” becomes a person who has drowned and is now rising towards the surface, a horrible image. All of the verbs turn into a slow death and then release.

I decided to see what would happen if I put the nouns and verbs back together but removed everything else.

Nouns and Verbs Mirror:

I am. I have preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow
it is, love dislike.
I am
eye god,.
time I meditate wall.
It is. I have looked it
I think it is it flickers.
Faces darkness separate us.
I am lake. woman bends me,
Searching reaches what she is.
she turns liars, candles moon.
I see back, reflect it
She rewards me tears agitation hands.
I am her. She comes goes.
morning it is her face replaces darkness.
me she has drowned girl, me woman
Rises her day day, fish.

This is much closer to the original poem, and represents more of a power struggle between Mirror and the woman. In this version because the nouns and verbs are together, we can see the relationship between Mirror and woman unfold. Mirror needs the woman.

The deformance technique made me pay much closer attention to the function and impact of parts of the poem, so much so that the poem’s meaning intensified in a disturbing way. When I read the whole poem, I don’t get the same intense feeling of my sanity creeping away. I believe that it has added a new dimension to the poem for me—a dimension that was already there.