Abstract: Sylvia Plath’s 1961 poem “Mirror” can be read as a rejoinder to Ted
Hughes’s 1958 poem “Pike.” Plath shrinks her husband’s mythic grandeur to
reveal a psychodrama of the self as a vanishing façade.
Sylvia Plath’s 1961 poem "Mirror" builds up to the appearance of a terrible
fish, an internalized counterpart of the watching consciousness under the dark
pond of Ted Hughes's 1958 poem "Pike." Whereas Hughes's poem evokes the
spirit of the place and the genetic residue of England's violent past, a version
perhaps of Clarence's dream of the sea of fish-eaten victims of the Wars of the
Roses in Shakespeare's history play Richard III, and the sunless sea from where
ancestral voices prophecy war in Coleridge’s “”Kubla Khan,” Plath's "Mirror"
narrates a lifetime of interactions with a nameless, faceless woman and imagines
aging as disfigurement. In Hughes’s poem, pike are both weapons (cf. a “pike”
as an instrument of warfare) and vital presences in the physical world that
provide inspiration for his poetic vocation. In Plath’s poem, a fish resides in the
mirror, a monstrous figuration of coming to recognize oneself as an aging,
vanishing façade. The poet speaks through the voice of her mirror.
Exploring timeless, primitive, ruthless fish, “Pike” chronicles a series of
vignettes that, observes Matthew Fisher, begin in plain diction, giving an
objective, scientific description: “Pike, three inches long, perfect/ Pike in all parts,
green tigering the gold.” The word “tigering” in the second line, pace Fisher,
perhaps evokes William Blake’s “Tiger, tiger, burning bright/In the forest of the
night,” an image of the destructive, devouring element of Creation. The green
... middle of paper ...
...Hughes’s Pike,” Explicator 47:4 (Summer 1989): 58-59.
Freud, Sigmund. (1919) “The ‘Uncanny’,” trans. James Strachey, Standard
Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James
Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1955), XVII: 218-252.
Hughes, Ted. Collected Poems, ed. Paul Keegan (London: Faber, 2004).
Hughes, Ted. Letter to Leonard and Esther Baskin, January 1959 (London:
British Library manuscripts).
Hughes, Ted, ed. Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems (New York: HarperPerennial
Keegan, Paul, ed., Ted Hughes, Collected Poems (London: Faber, 2004).
Plath, Sylvia. Collected Poems, ed. Ted Hughes (New York: 1982).
La Belle, Jenijoy. Herself Beheld: The Literature of the Looking Glass (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1988).
Porter, David, “Beasts/Shamans/Baskin: The Contemporary Aesthetics of Ted
Hughes,” Boston Review 22 (Fall 1974): 13-25.
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