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“Mirror” and “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath

“Mirror” and “Tulips”

Sylvia Plath is an acknowledged poetess whose literary work was distinguished by the existential deliberations. Her style of existential description in the poem was among the pioneering styles, which opened the new era of existential literature. Her two poems – “Mirror” and “Tulips” – deserve the closet attention because they reflect some autobiographical features and provide a brief account of her life philosophy and outlooks. To enlarge on the issue, the poem “Mirror” introduces the mirror as an object, which contemplates everything it reflects, and mediates on the sense of existence.

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Similarly, the poem “Tulips” is also an existential work that discusses the problem of loneliness and isolation of a woman who is striving to compensate her need for dialogue and communication. In both poems, the main characters are non-human objects, which contribute to the description of human feelings and actions, such as loneliness, delineation, outcast and negligence. Additionally, the described objects, although represented from different perspectives, focus on the complicated world which is deprived of emotionality.

In both stories, objects serve to demonstrate the author’s loneliness. By means of such objects, Plath characterizes her feelings and status in society. For instance, in the poem “Tulips”, she writes, “The tulips are too red. They hurt me…I have no face…The vivid tulips eat oxygen” (n. p.). Similarly, the poem “Mirror” also represents the looking glass as a means of reflecting the objectivity of life: “Most of the time I mediate on the opposite wall…I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over” (Plath, n. p.). Thus, while introducing the objects, the author strives to highlight the contrast of her thinking over the surrounding world and the beliefs accepted in society.

Both poems introduce the theme of separation and border between Plath’s identity and society. In this respect, both tulips and the mirror serve are the borders and the obstacles that prevent her from co-existence with others. As a proof, the poem “Tulips” reveals, “Now I have lost myself, I am such a baggage…I am thirty-year-old cargo boat/ Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address” (Plath n. p.). Similarly, the looking glass represents the woman as the one who has connection to her own world through the mirror, which prevents her from seeing the real world. Although the mirror is just the reflector of the woman, the object is still regarded as the reflector of feelings and emotions of the author. The looking glass serves as a border between the inner and the outer worlds of the woman depicted in the poem.

The melancholy of existence is revealed through both poems, as well. In the poem “Tulips”, the main heroine describes herself as “baggage” to nurses surrounding her. She has lost her life after the recovery and tulips are the reminders of such facts. She contrasts her state with the vividness of the flowers standing opposite to her. Similar contrasts are also described in the poem “Mirror”, in which the looking glass is also the capture of the woman’s thoughts, life and beauty. It is also the measure of her life, including her existence, emotions and psychological response to the surrounding world. Specifically, Plath reveals, “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” (n. p.). Hence, both works unveil the objects as negative characters, the objects that the author hates because they disengage her from the outer world.

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Despite the melancholic tone of the poem, as well as identical style of exposing the themes of loneliness and separation, there are still distinctions in terms of poems structure, themes and narration. To begin with, “Mirror” represents the looking glass as the narrator of the story that renders the woman’s feelings, as well as introduces its personal impressions and experiences. Apparently, the split between her own genuine emotions and those, which are expected by society, makes the author more disparate and lonely. Her depression is growing and mirror could be considered as a result of her alienation from the world, which reflects it with truth and objectivity. The woman, which is allegedly the author, Sylvia Plath, looks at water, feeling empty and lost because she does not receive full satisfaction from her life. In the poem, Plath writes, “Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon, I see her back and reflect it faithfully” (n. p.). Hence, the mirror could also be represented as the world that sees only her outer expression, but not her heart and her soul. Misconception and misunderstanding arouses, leaving no space for self-recognition.

In contrast to such form of narration, the tulips are represented as the speaker’s major attention. The woman, who has recovered after the surgery, is now frustrated with the tulips she sees, because they are vivid and full of life unlike her, who is compared with the soulless and breathless body of the woman lying in the hospital. The tulips create an opposite feeling, and the woman is against her willingness to “life with [her] hands turned up and be utterly empty”. She identifies her with excitability, with eyes watching her as she rests. While contemplating the flowers, the woman is overwhelmed with controversial feelings. On the one hand, the red colors remind her of life, happiness and vividness.

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At the same time, she considers them as dangerous as an African cat who can wound her heart. As a result, there is a main tension between the flowers and her desire to live in calmness or die. There is a significant opposition between the sterility and “whiteness” of the hospital room, and the contrastive and bright tulips, which are not naturally embedded into the entire picture. Such confrontation could be compared with the harmonious tandem between the woman and the glass in Mirror.

As Raza states, “a remarkable aspect of [Plath’s] art is to create beauty out of personal suffering and describe it vividly with fascination and to employ very appropriate images for it” (n. p.). As we can see, the poetess uses metaphorical comparisons and allegorical images which are represented through different objects, such as flowers or mirror. In such way, Plath manages to describe a deeper sense of things, emotions and feelings. The experience of disease, as it is described in “Tulips”, is represented through colors of flowers, which represent both pain and life. Consequently, it can be stated that Plath believes that life is pain. Through objects, the poetess renders her sophisticated state of mind by introducing a deep landscape of her poem.

By employing various objects of nature, she introduces a fresh insight into the poetic world, which represents the topic of disease and death. The approach of projecting the inner landscape allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the poem and the feeling it hides. Additionally, Plath’s poetry is associated with the surrounding world and its influence on life. Both poems under analysis reflect the poetess’s position as an environmentalist, as well as her ability to assign images with meaningful descriptions and metaphorical comparisons.


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It should also be stressed that the poem Tulips is characterized by color symbolism to render the emotions of the heroes. As such, white and red colors are the major symbols of melancholy and pain, respectively. On the one hand, the poetess wants to live in a “white world” without pain. White, therefore, is associated with death. On the other hand, the analysis focuses on the importance of “red” because it is the color that imprints life and emotional atmosphere. It should be stressed, however, that “Tulips” introduces an ambiguous picture of pallets because the poetess considers them as “too red”, which means that such type of color could not generate love and life. On the contrary, it can only cause pain and violence. In “Mirror”, the attention to color is also given, because all colors represent plain and pastel tones, which are deprived of life.


In conclusion, it should be stated that “Mirror” and “Tulips” are outstanding poems by Sylvia Plath that represent new poetic style of existential narrations. Both poems focus on such themes as loneliness, alienation, life and death, existential thinking and loss of identity. The poems are focused on a woman who has lost the desire to live and who is discontented with everything surrounding her. The tulips standing nearby in a white hospital room remind her of her disease, whereas the mirror the woman looks at reminds her of her withering beauty. Further, both poems tell about the importance of color in rendering the emotions and feelings of the woman. Hence, the white and red combination in “Tulips” depicts the confrontation between the life and death, whereas pastel tones in “Mirror” focus on the loss of identity and sense of life. Finally, the use of images and natural objects are also the important techniques used by the poetess.


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