Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
- With the new stanza, our poem switches: we're now no longer hearing from a mirror, but from a lake. Yet the speaker is conscious of this change – it sets it up with the word "now."
- We're not quite sure what the lake looks like, but it must be pretty clear and still to show reflections like a mirror. We wonder if the lake is as honest as the mirror, and if it misses the pink speckled wall.
- Whether or not this lake is the same at heart as the mirror, the poem moves on to show what the lake is reflecting: a woman.
- Because she's looking in a lake and not a mirror, the woman must bend over to see the reflection of her face.
- But the woman isn't only trying to see the reflection of her face; she's hoping to see something deeper: what she really is.
- She's searching the reaches, or the depths, of the lake, perhaps looking not only into her reflection, but also into the waters beneath it.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully
- This woman is determined to find a way to reflect herself, to show something deeper than what is on the surface. After searching in the lake, she turns to face the moonlight and candles to try and see a different reflection.
- The lake calls candles and the moon liars, because their light can warp sight, often hiding people's blemishes and making them appear more beautiful (candlelight dinners and moonlight walks are romantic for a reason, after all).
- Here, we see more human characteristics from the speaker – the lake is calling other inanimate objects liars. Of course, none of these things can talk, much less talk trash about each other, but this lake is proud of its honesty, as we see further in line 13. When the woman is turned away, to look at the lying moon and candles, the lake is still there, reflecting her back, faithfully showing the truth.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
- This line shows that the woman is anxious to find what she's looking for – as the lake told us earlier, she is searching for what she really is. She's not satisfied with the lake at first glance, but eventually turns back to it.
- But the lake seems upset that the woman is rewarding it for its faithful reflection by becoming more distressed. She shows her distress by physically disturbing the lake; her tears drop into it, and her hands stir up the water that shows her reflection.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
- This lake sure is proud, saying it's important to the woman it reflects. But remember, this speaker is supposed to be truthful and exact, so maybe it's right when it says that it's important to this woman.
- The lake even gives proof to back up how important it is – it says the woman visits each morning, so that the lake then reflects the woman's face instead of the dark of the night. If this woman comes to look at the lake every morning, well then maybe it is important to her.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
- Now, the water becomes not just a calm mirror, but terrifying.
- In these two lines, drowning and rising in the lake metaphorically describe aging.
- The woman has "drowned" a young girl in the lake – but we don't think she has actually drowned anyone. Instead, the young girl who used to look into the lake is gone, having grown into a woman.
- Why does the speaker say the woman "drowned" her own youth in these waters? Perhaps because the woman has spent so much time peering into the lake and fretting about her reflection, or perhaps simply because time is passing.
- Also in the lake, an old woman rises up – but again, we don't think this is an actual old woman in the lake. Instead, the woman's reflection is changing and aging. She sees herself growing into an old woman.
- This old woman is like a "terrible fish," which brings the lake metaphor full circle and gives us a ghastly image of what this young woman has turned into: something as ugly as a fish.
- In these final lines, we understand what's so haunting and pressing about looking into this lake for the woman in the poem. In her own reflection in this lake, beautiful youth is sinking and terrible old age is rising.
- These two lines are like the punch line of the poem; it's not a joke, and the lines aren't funny, but they deliver the message of the poem so sharply and suddenly it leaves you feeling a little out of breath, a little horrified.