Jun 7, 2011
I'm not ready to leave the issues and questions I've tried to stimulate in the previous two posts about William Logan, Frieda Hughes and Sharon Olds. However, my mysterious attraction to my own photo of a fish, along with the humorous comment about it from Pasadena Adjacent at my last post, have recalled for me a poem by Sylvia Plath.
Since Sharon Olds is sometimes discussed as Plath's psychic daughter, and Frieda Hughes is Plath's actual daughter, and William Logan writes about them all, and I write about William Logan writing about them all, a practice that William Logan has mockingly called Theory . . . well, all the stars seem in alignment for us to consider the three luminaries: William Logan, Sharon Olds, and now Sylvia Plath.
Here is "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath: 'Mirror' by Sylvia Plath
First, I'm interested in my own acceptance of Plath's bold, explicit, perhaps self-indulgent switch in speakers to open the second stanza (or verse paragraph): "Now I am a lake." Part of me wants to reply, "Really. You get to be what you want, when you want. Well, I'm an avalanche, baby, and I just crashed some boulders into your lake, just cluttered you up, just obliterated your arrogant damned lake."
Does she get to do that, simply change horses in midstream because she feels like it and then she can shout it from the rooftops? Doesn't that break some important rule? Is she thumbing her nose at old stuffed shirts, telling them (us? me?) to stuff it if we can't loosen up, can't take a joke? But this is no joke, is it? This is aging, this is shriveling, flesh-gone-to-scales mortality, isn't it?
I feel as if Plath has seized something of mine, and I've said that's okay, boss, go ahead, you can have it. Maybe I didn't want it anyway, though I wasn't sure yet. But go ahead, take it. It was only my cornucopia, my horn of plenty of male logic. It wasn't doing me much good, and your mood, or your mysterious . . . strategy . . . is surely more important.
Secondly, I'm intrigued by the power of the poem's closing: "rises toward her . . . like a terrible fish." Sometimes I have images, or personifying glimpses, of old age that are not unlike terrible fish. Yet I'd never have pinned them down and thought, "Oh, yeah, terrible fish, that's exactly what I saw-felt-imagined." My images had nothing to do with fish, yet I'm perfectly satisfied with Plath's decision that a fish is what she and I both saw in the mirror.
Finally, I am thoroughly satisfied with her vague adjective, "terrible." Why? Usually I'd ask for something more precise to describe the poem's most dominant image, the fish; but "terrible" seems not just acceptable, but perfect. Maybe it's because I don't usually think of fish as terrible; or maybe something more individualizing about this fish would distract and separate me from the real issue and its creator, while a "terrible" fish, rising at me, feels like just the right transmogrification to capture the universal insult of aging. From flesh to scales in the stroke of a pen. Or tick of a clock.
I wonder if William Logan would say that Plath has managed to capture an unflattering portrait of the human body without resorting to the peep show tactics he attributes to Sharon Olds. I sure think such wondering is important fun, like a seventh grade dance, where we're all fools, and, whether we dance or stand against the wall with our hands folded, we're glad to be there. But don't tell a soul.
'Mirror' by Sylvia Plath