Sylvia Plath’s poem titled “Mirror” is almost a riddle, in which a mirror describes itself, its functions, and its role in the life of a particular woman. The title of the poem, of course, immediately announces the object the poem is describing; a true riddle would have left that identity ambiguous – something to be guessed.
Line 1 refers to the silver backing that makes mirrors reflective. The mirror is “exact” in the sense that it provides an accurate, precise reflection. The mirror has “no preconceptions” in the sense that it, unlike people, has no prejudices or biases: it merely reflects, exactly, whatever is put in front of it. The mirror consumes but also immediately gives back whatever is placed in front of it (2). It never distorts or obscures, either because of affection or hatred (3). The mirror does not try to hurt; it is simply honest (4). It resembles God in the sense that it sees and reflects things exactly as they are (5).
During most of each day, the mirror simply reflects the wall on the other side of the room (6). That wall “is pink, with speckles” (7). The mirror has looked at the wall for such a long time that it feels a kind of affection for (or at least comfortable familiarity with) the wall (7-8). Yet the wall “flickers” in the sense that people sometimes move between the mirror and the wall, and also in the sense that the wall is sometimes hidden in darkness, when night comes (7-8).
In line 10, the mirror compares itself to a lake into which a woman looks (10). The woman is trying to peer deeper than a mirror usually allows one to see; she is trying to search in the mirror to discover some sense of her true identity:
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is. (10-11)
The woman then turns away from the mirror, looking towards more attractive, more romantic sources of light – sources of light that, according to the mirror, are attractive but deceptive (12). Nevertheless, even while the woman looks away from the mirror, the mirror accurately shows the woman’s back (13).
Apparently the woman is emotionally distraught, perhaps by what she sees – that is, herself – in the mirror. Even so, the woman feels drawn to the mirror and finds the mirror significant in her life (15). She “comes and goes” in the sense that she probably looks in the mirror, at least briefly, each day. When the sun rises in the morning and the woman awakes, she looks in the mirror (16). In the mirror she sees how much she has changed from the young girl she once was (17), and in the mirror she also sees intimations of the “old woman” she is slowly becoming (17). This image of herself as old woman seems closer and closer each day, like an ugly fish rising toward someone looking into a lake.