Sunday, January 15, 2012

To Be Written on the Mirror in Whitewash

I live only here, between your eyes and you,
But I live in your world.  What do I do?
--Collect no interest--otherwise what I can;
Above all I am not that staring man.

Elizabeth Bishop.

Possibly helpful information:
1. whitewash: a solution of lime and water or of whiting, size, and water, used for painting walls white.
2. whitewashing: a deliberate concealment of someone's mistakes or faults in order to clear their name.

I was immediately drawn to this poem when browsing the poem titles by Ms. Bishop.  What is to be written on the mirror in whitewash?  Why would you ever write something on a mirror with whitewash?  Almost seems counterintuitive because that would seem like declaring something when the verb to whitewash has a very different meaning.

I think this poem has something to do with the speaker’s true identity versus his facade and/or the identity that “your world” (2) forces him to hold.  It seems that the speaker of the poem is the man’s ‘true’ identity, observing the man from the mirror.  I don’t really understand, “What do I do? / --Collect no interest--otherwise what I can;” (2-3)  Maybe it means that the man has deviated from his true self so much that his true self no longer has control over his physical body?  The last line indicated to me the chasm that has developed between the man and the figure in the mirror.

Poetic Devices

-Rhyme: lines 1-4; AABB
-Assonance: "But I live in your world." (2), "Collect no interest" (3), "otherwise what I can", "I am that staring man" (4)
-Anaphora: "I live only here, between your eyes and you, / But I live in your world.  What do I do?" (1-2)

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