Poetics of the Actual: Plath and Hughes
Plath's 1961 poem “Mirror” can be read as a rejoinder to Ted Hughes's 1958 poem “Pike,” which in turn can be illuminated by lines in Plath's 1957 poem “All the Dead Dears”: “From the mercury-backed glass/ Mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother/ Reach hag hands to haul me in,// And an image looms under the fishpond surface… .” Plath's “Mirror” shrinks Hughes's mythic grandeur to reveal a psychodrama of the self as an aging, vanishing façade. Examination of Plath's notes on Virginia Woolf's use of the Grimm fairytale “The Fisherman and his Wife” in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE opens discussion of how Plath and Hughes transform the actual into the poetic. The poets' respective use of pond imagery of surface and depth reflect their concepts of the unconscious, of the married couple as mutual mirrors, and bear out claims made by Jacques Lacan and D. W. Winnicott on the mirror role of the mother in child development and the formation of the I.
Keywords: Call and Response, Eye Imagery, Death as Uncanny, Fish Imagery, Orality, Psychic Mirroring, Representation of the Unconscious, Underworld
Prof Dianne Hunter
Professor, English Department, Trinity College