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Sylvia Plath


Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 3 March 2014
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A young woman (the poet herself?) looks constantly into two mirrors: a rectangular mirror in the house and the glimmering surface of a nearby lake.

Each mirror claims to present the woman with perfect images of herself, and yet each indicates a degree of growing unhappiness within the woman who is viewing herself.


Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1932.

She was an intelligent child -- she had her first poem published when she was only eight -- but she also displayed a marked degree of sensitivity. She sought perfection in all that she did.

Her father -- a college professor and a bee expert -- died of an illness when the poet was still young. He apparently thought it was cancer but in reality it was a curable form of diabetes.

His untimely death appears to have scarred the young child's sensitive mind.

She entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1950 and, while there, wrote some 400 poems. During her first year, however, she attempted suicide through an overdose of sleeping pills.

She graduated from Smith College summa cum laude in 1955 and thereupon won a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England.

While there, she met and married the English poet, Ted Hughes. Their marriage, however, would last a mere ten years before Sylvia found herself divorced.

She was alone once more, but now a stranger in a small London flat. She was also poor and with two children to look after. This was a foreign existence for one who had always been accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life.

The winter of 1962 to 1963 was one of the coldest, during which time the poet was continually ill with flu. She learnt first hand much about the harshness of life.

She nevertheless worked furiously in the very early mornings while the children slept, producing a poem virtually every day.

Towards the end of that winter -- in February 1963 -- she committed suicide by gassing herself in her kitchen. She was then only 30 years of age.

She had not yet won the recognition she so richly deserved as a poet. Like so many great artists, fame would follow only after her death.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

The poet speaks of two mirrors,
  • What are they? In what way are they different? (4)

[Need help?]

"I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike."
  • In what way is the mirror "exact"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • The mirror says that it has no "preconceptions". What does it mean by this? (2)

[Need help?]

  • The mirror also claims that it is "unmisted by love or dislike". Explain this claim. (2)

[Need help?]

"I am not cruel, only truthful --
The eye of a little god, four-cornered."
  • The mirror claims that it is not in any way biassed. Is this true? (4)

[Need help?]

  • In what way do the words "The eye of a little god" belie the mirror's claim to being neutral? (4)

[Need help?]

"I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over."
  • Why should the wall have become part of the mirror's heart? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does the mirror mean when it says, "It flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over."? (4)

[Need help?]

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