Silver Plath’s poems, “Mirror”, and “A Life” have similarities and differences in their structure, themes, stylistic devices, emotions, and simplicity. The best way to compare the two poems is to project the differences and similarities that they possess. The comparison includes the metaphoric approach that Plath chose to use the poems as a means to bring out what was in her mind. Furthermore, the analysis also studies and later makes a conclusion about the persona in both poems in the scope of their poetic worlds, experiences, and attitude towards all that goes on throughout the poem.
“Mirror” is a straightforward metaphorical masterpiece that personifies a mirror through its thoughts about its user, who is a woman. The mirror embodies the passage of time through the face of the woman who uses it, which ages with time. The mirror views itself as “silver and exact”, meaning that it reflects the user the way she actually looks (Taylor 256). It does not use any form of bias to bring out the image of the woman, but reflects it truthfully. In fact, the mirror considers itself as a “four-cornered eye of god”, that views all things as they are in reality. It is located in an empty room, which it considers to be part of its “heart”, because it has spent a long time looking at the empty room’s pink speckled wall (256). Many times the image of the wall is disrupted by other people who turn up to look at their images and the darkness that comes every evening. The only time the mirror has its desired solitude with the wall is on a bright day without many people longing to look at themselves in it. The mirror also compares itself to a “lake”, that truly shows the woman her actual image unlike the candlelight and moonlight, which it considers “liars” because they do not reflect her actual image. The honesty of the mirror in showing the woman the changes in her outward appearance makes her cry sometimes, but she cannot live without it because there is no other way she can look at her real image (256).
“A Life” is not as straightforward as the “Mirror”. The reader needs to read it several times to understand the themes, structure, and the stylistic devices that Plath used in the poem. It is a narration that describes a painting that has ambiguous qualities. The narrator portrays the paining as lovely and depressing, reproductive and sterile in a manner that sparks a paradox.
Similarities “Mirror” and “A Life”
The two poems contain the element of time as a main theme. While “Mirror” depicts the passage of time though the aging of the woman who uses the mirror and the rising and setting of sun, “A Life” describes the run of time through the narrator’s insistence on the reproductive nature of the painting. The author of “A Life” says that the painting contains “yesterday, last year; the future (256).
Both poems have a deep sense of metaphorical representation of reality. Both poems have a prominent use of metaphors that set the tone of different stages in the experiences of personas and also emphasize the themes of time and human immortality. In “Mirror”, the voice in the poem says that, “I am the eye of the little god” (256). The metaphor compares the truthfulness and honesty of the mirror with the sanctity of godliness, which does not exaggerate anything, but shows it as it is in reality. The mirror also states that it is “a lake” that the woman turns to see her true image. The metaphor compares the mirror to a lake that drowns creatures and lets others swim out in different sizes the same way as the woman’s young face appears no longer, but was replaced with another one, old one of the same version. Finally, “a terrible fish” is a metaphor that compares the woman’s face with an ugly looking sea fish. It emphasizes the fact that the character has aged and looks young no longer as she did when she began using the mirror.
“A Life” uses metaphors to show the change of tone in the poem. The expression “ the clouds tasseled and fancy like Victorian cushions,” and the people are busy, “light as coke”, and therefore not worried embody the tranquility that comes with the unchanging world that Plath presents (Hagestad, Gunhild and Bernice 62). To show that the same unchanging landscape embodies depression and delusion she uses other metaphors that describe a rather tensed environment. For example, the expressions, “sort of private blitzkrieg,” and another that compares the woman to the “fetus in a bottle,” reveal a different emotional tone.
Both poems communicate the themes in emotional tone. The metaphorical painting in “A Life” is presented in two contrasting images. The first four stanzas have pleasant tone that portrays the painting as productive and beautiful. The first four stanzas are devoid of the tensions present in the next four stanzas. However, Plath changes her tone by introducing a rather depressive and delusional one that foretells a bleak future. The ugly pictures, which Plath considers to be more frank and honest than the still landscape, follow the unfriendly tone that she adopts. For example, the imposing image of an ill patient “dragging her shadow” emphasizes the different tone the Plath uses in the last four stanzas of the poem.
“Mirror” also has two sets of emotional tones that change with the aging of the woman who uses the mirror. As a young girl, she enjoys the reality that the mirror reflects as her image. However, that changes as she grows older. She is agitated by what she sees in the mirror and rewards it “with tears” and an “agitation of hands”. The beginning of the “Mirror” is filled with melancholy that embodies the interaction of the mirror with its users and the environment it is situated. In the end, the poem has a sad tone, which explains the resentment and disappointment of the woman with her aging face.
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Finally, both poems have a feminist connotation. “Mirror” talks about the passage of time through the life of a woman in the eyes of a mirror she uses while “A Life” talks about a woman ailing in hospital with no emotional and physical connection with the world outside her predicament (Hareven, Tamaren, and Adams 56). “A Life” also subtly describes the theme of time through the loneliness of the sick woman in hospital and her recognition of her aging body. In “Mirror”, the female, seeing her image reflected in a visual object, is concerned with her beauty that ends is the painful reflection of narcissistic objectification. The verbal representations of the mutual relationship between the mirror and the woman, spoken in the deceptively innocent, present-tense voice, tells the reader about the possible dangers of narcissistic thoughts, especially in a feminist stance. In “A Life”, Plath also objectifies females through a different subjective way as she does in most of her poems.
The two poems have structural differences as well. While “Mirror” has short straightforward lines that are easily interpretable, “A Life” uses a narrative, which is open to different interpretations. Thus, “Mirror” uses short stanzas which represent a relentless speaker who is keen to show the world the pride people have in their personalities without sympathizing with the emotions of the woman.
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Although both poems have rising and falling tones, they are different in terms of emotion. The speaker in the “Mirror” is calm and not concerned with the reaction of the woman to the attitude it has over her. The tone is not tense and seems to be in harmony with its traits as honest and truthful to the user of the mirror. The tone in “A Life” is quite tense, especially in the final stanzas. The speaker does not seem to be in harmony with all that goes on around by resenting the old age. In the speaker’s eyes, old age comes with death as evidenced by the comparison of the future with “a grey seagull’. “A Life” describes the contemptuous attitude of the speaker towards the future. The speaker sees death in future without a speck of hope.
In conclusion, both poems have a sense of time. Time is depicted in the aging of both women in the poems. The woman in the “Mirror” celebrates her young age and spends a lot of time before the mirror. As time flies, she resents her old age by crying before the mirror and expresses “an agitation of hands”, meaning that she was afraid of the future, especially old age. “A Life” also talks about the passage of time. Although the poem begins with the speaker admiring the paintings, it ends with the occurrence of what the speaker dreads the most: old age. While “Mirror” is unbiased in explaining the theme of time, “A Life” is more emotionally charged. The objectivity of the speaker in a poem is in the precision of lines and stanzas.