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Tragic death runs in Sylvia Plath's family. When she was just eight years old, her father died of complications from diabetes, which could have been prevented if he had sought treatment earlier. Perhaps in part because of this death, Plath struggled with depression throughout her life, which she ended herself in February of 1963, after she and her husband, poet Ted Hughes, separated, leaving Plath to care for their two children.
Plath's poetry carries us into the mind of a woman surrounded by such tragedy – yet her poems are as beautiful as they are dark.
The poem we're looking at here, "Mirror," was written in 1961, roughly two years before Plath's suicide. But it wasn't published for another ten years, when it appeared in Plath's book Crossing the Water, which Ted Hughes arranged to have published posthumously.
It's tempting to read "Mirror" as a reflection of Plath's difficult life, but the poem has merit aside from its author's biographical intrigues. This poem has a mind of glass – sharp, clear, and unforgettable – and would be compelling no matter who wrote it.
Ever caught yourself looking in the mirror a little too long, just staring at your own reflection?
In "Mirror," Sylvia Plath gives us the point of view of the mirror – actually a mirror in the 1960s, a time when the meaning of Plath's reflection, and women's reflections in general, were rapidly changing. The feminist movement was becoming more prominent just as Plath herself was beginning to experience motherhood and to enter middle age.
This poem lets us look out and see, through the silver and piercing eyes of a mirror, an aging woman, and to see a time when the definition of what it meant to be a woman was changing.
But you don't have to be female to enjoy this poem. More than giving us this glimpse into a life and a historical time, this poem makes the mirror come alive, swallowing the reader into its clear pool. This poem will make you wonder, the next time you look in the mirror, what is rising up on its surface, coming towards you.
"A Celebration, this is"
This site, made and maintained by Plath scholar Peter K. Steinberg, has lots of information on Plath's life and work, as well as numerous photos.
Plath on Poets.org
A brief biography about Sylvia Plath, plus several of her most famous poems.
Plath on Modern American Poetry
The University of Illinois provides commentary on a variety of Plath's poetry, as well as biographical information, photos, and an interview.
A clip from the movie Sylvia, a dramatization of Plath's life, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
Interview with Plath
A 1962 interview with Sylvia Plath. Plath discusses her poetry and inspiration.
Plath reads one of her most famous poems, "Lady Lazarus."
Plath and Hughes
A 1956 photo of Plath and her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes.
A portrait Plath painted of herself in the early 1950s.
A classic portrait of the poet.
A dramatization of Plath's life, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath and Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes.
An article exploring Plath's recently released journals, her life, and her death.
The Collected Poems
Plath's poems, in chronological order. This collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Plath wrote in journals from the age of twelve until her death at age 30. The Unabridged Journals offer all of Plath's uncensored journal entries for the first time.