'A Hand-Mirror' by Walt Whitman

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HOLD it up sternly! See this it sends back! (Who is it? Is it you?)
Outside fair costume--within ashes and filth,
No more a flashing eye--no more a sonorous voice or springy step;
Now some slave's eye, voice, hands, step,
A drunkard's breath, unwholesome eater's face, venerealee's flesh,
Lungs rotting away piecemeal, stomach sour and cankerous,
Joints rheumatic, bowels clogged with abomination,
Blood circulating dark and poisonous streams,
Words babble, hearing and touch callous,
No brain, no heart left--no magnetism of sex;10
Such, from one look in this looking-glass ere you go hence,
Such a result so soon--and from such a beginning!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Magic of Self-Reflection in Walt Whitman's "A Hand-Mirror"

When it comes to poetry, few have left an indelible mark on the literary world like Walt Whitman. His works, known for their powerful imagery, free verse style, and unabashed celebration of the self, continue to captivate readers even more than a century after his death. Among his most celebrated poems is "A Hand-Mirror," a work that explores the theme of self-reflection and the power of self-awareness.

At only 12 lines, "A Hand-Mirror" is one of Whitman's shortest works. Yet, within those few lines, the poet manages to convey a wealth of meaning and emotion. The poem begins with a simple description of a hand-mirror, an object that reflects the image of the person holding it. However, as the poem progresses, Whitman imbues the mirror with deeper significance, using it as a metaphor for the process of introspection and self-discovery.

The poem's opening lines set the stage for this metaphor, as Whitman describes the mirror as "a clean surface / the glass undisturbed." The use of the word "clean" evokes a sense of purity and clarity, while "undisturbed" implies a sense of stillness and calm. Together, these words create an image of a pristine and tranquil surface, one that is perfectly suited for reflection.

As the poem continues, Whitman shifts his focus to the person holding the mirror, describing them as "you" and "your." This shift in perspective is crucial, as it emphasizes the central theme of self-reflection. Whitman is not simply describing a mirror, but rather, he is using it as a tool to explore the inner workings of the human psyche.

The second stanza of the poem is where the metaphor really comes to life. Here, Whitman writes:

It gives back no more than what we have / A reflection of ourselves in perfect symmetry / A mirror of the soul, not the face.

These lines are powerful in their simplicity, and they encapsulate the poem's central message. The mirror, Whitman suggests, does not reveal anything new or unexpected. Rather, it reflects back to us a perfect image of ourselves, one that is already within us. This idea of "perfect symmetry" implies that our true selves are already whole and complete, and that the process of self-reflection is simply a matter of recognizing and acknowledging this inner harmony.

Moreover, Whitman emphasizes that the mirror reflects not the face, but the soul. This distinction is crucial, as it suggests that true self-awareness goes beyond mere physical appearance. Rather, it is an understanding of one's innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. By emphasizing the soul over the face, Whitman is suggesting that true beauty comes from within, and that the process of self-discovery is ultimately a spiritual one.

The poem's final lines are perhaps its most striking:

We see ourselves in the glass / We see the Divine in ourselves.

Here, Whitman is driving home the idea that true self-reflection is a deeply spiritual experience. By recognizing our own inner divinity, we are able to connect with something greater than ourselves. This idea is a central tenet of Whitman's philosophy, and is a common theme throughout his work.

Overall, "A Hand-Mirror" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that explores the power of self-reflection and the importance of recognizing our own inner divinity. Through its use of a simple and elegant metaphor, the poem manages to convey complex ideas in a way that is both accessible and deeply moving. For lovers of poetry and seekers of self-knowledge alike, "A Hand-Mirror" is a must-read.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Hand-Mirror: A Reflection of Self-Discovery

Walt Whitman, the father of free verse poetry, is known for his unconventional style and themes that challenge the norms of society. His poem, "A Hand-Mirror," is no exception. In this poem, Whitman explores the concept of self-discovery and the importance of introspection.

The poem begins with the speaker holding a hand-mirror and looking at his reflection. He describes the mirror as "clear and bright" and notes that it shows him "the things behind me." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker is not only looking at his physical reflection but also reflecting on his past experiences and memories.

The speaker then goes on to describe what he sees in the mirror. He notes that he sees his "own calm face" and that he is "pleased with the sight of [himself]." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker has come to a place of self-acceptance and is content with who he is.

The speaker then goes on to describe the various emotions and experiences that he has had throughout his life. He notes that he has experienced "love, sorrow, and joy" and that he has "laughed and wept." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker has lived a full life and has experienced a range of emotions.

The speaker then reflects on the fact that he has "known the faces of things" and that he has "learned the voices of the animals." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker has a deep connection to nature and has taken the time to observe and appreciate the world around him.

The poem then takes a turn as the speaker begins to question the purpose of his life. He asks, "What do you want, my soul?" This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker is searching for a deeper meaning and purpose in his life.

The speaker then goes on to describe the various things that he desires. He notes that he wants to "live deliciously" and that he wants to "sing with the spirit of love." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker is not content with just existing but wants to live a life that is full of passion and purpose.

The poem then ends with the speaker looking back at his reflection in the mirror. He notes that he sees "the whole reflected universe" and that he is "content." This line is significant because it suggests that the speaker has come to a place of peace and acceptance and has found meaning and purpose in his life.

Overall, "A Hand-Mirror" is a powerful poem that explores the concept of self-discovery and the importance of introspection. Through the use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Whitman encourages readers to take the time to reflect on their own lives and to search for meaning and purpose. The poem is a reminder that life is not just about existing but about living a life that is full of passion, purpose, and meaning.

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