Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Poem in the Mirror

"All the qualities that we perceive through seeing can be reduced to six main categories which are: light, color, layout, distance, size and shape".
                                    René Descartes - The Discourse on Method

This seems pretty straightforward.
But what happens when a mirror - or a poem- inserts itself in the equation? How might our vision be altered then?

"Ms. Smith: Go, little Mary, go nicely into the kitchen and read your poems in front of the mirror...
Mr. Martin: I say, even if I am not a housekeeper, I also read poems in front of the mirror.
Ms. Martin: This morning when you looked at yourself in the mirror, you did not see yourself.
Mr. Martin: It's because I wasn't there yet."

That is one possible outcome as outlined in Eugene Ionescu's The Bald Soprano.

 There are, of course, multiple layering & mirroring effects in the act of writing a poem, if we but look for them, once the veneer of lyricism is peeled off. 

Here is the persona of a mirror, as it appears in the poem Mirror by Sylvia Plath.

"Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. 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."

The true purpose of the mirror in this poem is not to impersonate or codify an image within the realm of the six parameters proposed by Descartes, but to foster a transformation, an emergence. The act of seeing begets change, as it is a prelude to an unknown aftermath.

Here we have a second possible outcome, a metamorphosis in the vein of Ovid, that ends the poem:

"She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish."

One third possible outcome is suggested by the poem "Perseus" by Robert Hayden, a poetic re-enactment of the myth of Perseus.  Perseus uses the mirroring surface of his shield to watch for Medusa's movements in order to be able to sever her head.

 "Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield--
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck."

I am not entirely sure how to best interpret this last outcome, so I decided to leave this post's ending 'open'.

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