Friday, 5 December 2008

Mirrors within mirrors

Yesterday, while doing some local research the historical Town Hall (which these days is used as for dance) I was allowed access to the studio. Standing at one end of the high-ceilinged airy room looking at mirrors reflecting in mirrors I mused on how they can sometimes be used to create illusions. Something that has intrigued me all my life - though I can fully understand why some people choose to live without mirrors. Today I found this poem by Sylvia Plath which, until now I had been unfamiliar with. Perhaps because she took her own life while her children slept in the room next door affected my maternal instincts that sought to protect my own children from harm's way - I turned away. Here is her much studied poem - Mirror.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
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.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. 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.
Sylvia Plath 1932-1963
The following fascinating myth was taken from "The book of imaginary beings" by Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero. Revised, enlarged, and translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Published by E.P. Dutton & Co., 1970.
"In those days [legendary times of the Yellow Emperor] the world of mirrors and the world of men were not, as they are now, cut off from each other. They were, besides, quite different; neither beings nor colors nor shapes were the same. Both kingdoms, the specular and the human, lived in harmony; you could come and go through mirrors. One night the mirror people invaded the earth. Their power was great, but at the end of the bloody warfare the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. He repulsed the invaders, imprisoned them in their mirrors, and forced on them the task of repeating, as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of men. He stripped them of their power and of their forms and reduced them to mere slavish reflections. Nonetheless, a day will come when the magic spell will be shaken off.The first to awaken will be the Fish. Deep in the mirror we will perceive a very faint line and the color of this line will be like no other color. Later on, other shapes will begin to stir. Little by little they will differ from us; little by little they will not imitate us. They will break through the barriers of glass or metal and this time will not be defeated. Side by side with these mirror creatures, the creatures of water will join the battle."

And a bit of background about this legend :
"In one of the volumes of the 'Lettres edifiantes et curieuses' that appeared in Paris during the first half of the eighteenth century, Father Fontecchio of the Society of Jesus planned a study of the superstitions and misinformation of the common people of Canton; in the preliminary outline he noted that the Fish was a shifting and shining creature that nobody had ever caught but that many said they had glimpsed in the depths of mirrors."
(Poem and legend taken from the Sylvia Plath Forum)
(Mirror photo by June Jackson)