“The Face in the Mirror,” an autobiographical lyric poem, presents a definitive image of the poet’s aging face. Simultaneously, it includes reflections upon central moments and concepts in his life, which carved that face so graphically. Weaving physical description with allusions to significant memories, Robert Graves creates poetic tension in stanzas 1 and 2 and resolves it in stanza 3.
The tension in stanza 1 develops as the poet describes his eyes and brows. The eyes are “Grey” and “haunted.” The softened spelling of “gray,” juxtaposed with two hard syllables in “haunted,” achieves poetic tension, while the multisyllablic, hyphenated adverb “absent-mindedly” softens the sense of “glaring,” the verb it modifies, to such a degree that it seems to modify “eyes.” Readers, then, see haunted, hollow eyes staring vacantly from the mirror. This image heightens tension and holds readers hostage, although they may wish, desperately, to look away. With readers’ eyes pinned to grotesquely mirrored eyes, Graves makes the first autobiographical allusion of the poem: a reference to the most grotesque event of his life, World War I.
Grotesquerie continues in stanza 2. The poet expands the mirrored image to include an array of broken and lined facial features, from crown (“coarsehair, flying frenetic”) to “Jowls.” Again juxtaposing marred, bigger-than-life features, he makes them more grotesque against the image...
(The entire section is 460 words.)