How can I compare "Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W. B. Yeats and "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath?

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At first glance, these two poems and their poets make an unlikely pairing and are quite dissimilar. In “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” Yeats describes his yearning to move to a favorite island retreat in Ireland. He wants to build a house here, in the style of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, where he will raise both beans and bees. It’s a peaceful, natural place. Yeats thinks of this spot even when he is in the city, where he says he hears and feels the pulse of the lake waves “in the deep heart’s core” of the earth. It is a poem of comfort and positive energy, with anticipation for the future and what lies just ahead.

In contrast, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is an introspective poem. It is told in the viewpoint of the mirror that Plath has looked into for her entire life: reflecting her progression from youth to old age. Plath – or at least, the woman who serves as the main character -- is distressed about the changes in her appearance. Mid-poem, the mirror is equated with a lake. The woman has taken it down from the wall and has laid it on the top of a dresser so that she doesn’t have to see it whenever she enters the room, but only when she wants to. She intends to control it. By the end of the verse, the reflection of her image is that of a “terrible fish.” The woman sees no beauty in this “lake.” She fears the future and the continual changes that come with it.

Yeats looks forward to going to the lake someday. (In reality he never gets a chance to move to this favorite island, even though he lives to be 73 years old.) Plath looks at her mirror/lake every day with distaste and horror. (She suffers from depression throughout her life and commits suicide at the age of 30.) This comparison turns out to be a matter of personal perspective. How do you approach each day: with love, or with fear?

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree

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