Self-reflection. Common topic for writers, of course. We like worrying about the nature of, the meaning of, the various -nesses and -isms of ourselves. “Self, comma, the” is prevalent in the index of every poet’s autobiography.
The ability to see yourself reflected, physically, is what makes us human, as opposed to just human-shaped, according to our own lore. By which, of course, I mean vampires, and their inability to cast a reflection (though the self-recognition ‘mirror test‘ is a whole other fascinating topic).
And so, a mirror poem. “The Gentleman of Shallot” by Elizabeth Bishop, which has a charming tone in its logical exploration of an absurd idea. (But how absurd, really, is any metaphor for construction of the self?)
The Gentleman in question, having noted that neither of his eyes “is clearer/nor a different color/than the other” decides he must be half looking-glass:
He felt in modesty
his person was
for why should he
The glass must stretch
down his middle,
or rather down the edge.
But he’s in doubt
as to which side’s in or out
of the mirror.
There’s little margin for error,
but there’s no proof, either.
And if half his head’s reflected,
thought, he thinks, might be affected.
One of the delightful things in this poem is his curiosity. Although he realizes that “If the glass slips/he’s in a fix—/only one leg, etc.” this danger doesn’t bother him. In fact he loves the uncertainty. Continue reading