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;
Such, from one look in this looking-glass ere you go hence,
Such a result so soon—and from such a beginning!

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

7 Comments

  1. Robert Guo says:

    The major themes in The Hand Mirror
    The poem “The Hand Mirror” is written by Walt Whitman. In this poem, Whitman talks about some facts of life. Whitman spends most of the poem telling the reader how ugly the insides of someone can be and left one or two lines describing the outside appearance of that someone. Whitman gave very good examples that showed the readers the major themes of this poem—the theme of appearance versus reality and arguably the theme of youth versus old age. The author used imagery, a good use of questions and some contrast to prove the existence of these two themes.
    First of all, one of the main themes of this poem is appearance versus reality. The author Whitman begins this poem with a question. The question asks the reader looks inside a mirror, whether or not the person inside the mirror is really you. This question touches on the main theme of the essay, appearance versus reality. It questions the credibility of the appearance of people and indirectly warns the readers to be careful of this kind of person. The next line of the poem further proves this point. The quote “Outside fair costume—within ashes and filth” again emphasizes the main theme of appearance versus reality. Using these techniques, Whitman is trying to tell the readers that we should not judge a book by its cover. Whitman indirectly suggests that the readers take a look at the inner emotions of someone before actually judging them. Then Whitman emphasizes the resulting emotions using detailed imagery. For example, in the third to last line, the blood of the person was described to be “dark and poisonous” streams. This adds to the effects created by the poem since it emphasizes the contrast between the appearance and the reality. The author offers the two “extremes” by first making the outside appearance of the person seem very good,” outside fair costume”, and then contrasting that by giving the imagery of the insides of that person making him/her seem evil. By using the two extremes in a comparison, Whitman is reemphasizing his main theme, which is appearance versus reality.
    Secondly, another major theme in the poem was youth versus old age. The question that was mentioned in the last paragraph can be also interpreted as questioning the reality of the aging body. The entire poem can also be interpreted with the theme of youth versus old age rather than appearance versus reality. For example, in line 3, Whitman wrote, “no more a flashing eye—no more a sonorous voice or springy step.” This quote clearly shows that the person is aging. Since flashing eye, sonorous voice and springy step are usually used to describe someone young. By excluding that from a person, it is usually assumed that he or she is very old. Another sign of old age is shown in lines 6-8, “Lungs rotting away piecemeal, stomach sour and cankerous,/ Joints rheumatic, bowels clogged with abomination, Blood circulating dark and poisonous streams”. These three lines make the body of the person seem very diseased and unhealthy. Even though diseases are very common, when it is mentioned, they are usually associated with older people. The overall imagery of the poem gives a feeling of an older person. The last line of the poem makes this theme even more evident. “Such a result so soon—and from such a beginning!” gives the readers the impression that life is too short.
    In conclusion, Whitman used very good examples to show the major themes of the poem. He used imagery very well in order to emphasize the effect that the poem has on the readers. The major themes of the poem are well shown through the language that Whitman uses.

  2. Serge Charles Frechette says:

    Descriptive reflection of a time, when slavery was awash; i see pain in this poem of reflections of a slave keeper; we peel away in a mirror till the soul of us appears; it can be so many things a mirror.
    Truly inspirational as he inspires my poetry..as many of the old poets verve are wells for us to drink from.

  3. bird fancy says:

    i like it

  4. Alisha says:

    Whitman’s poem was incredible… but, John.. yours is horrendous! Do you actually think that was good??

  5. John Lawrence Barbetta says:

    Veil of Time ( Johnny through the looking glass)
    I got soap in my eyes
    I touched the cloth to face
    to regain lost vision
    I glanced in the mirror
    Staring back at me is someone I knew
    Black, soft, unkempt hair
    Uncorrupted complexion
    Big, brown, innocent panda bear eyes
    Before vision and thought connect
    I hear him call:
    “Mom, Mom I’ve got soap in my eyes, again-
    It hurts.”
    “I’m coming,” the rescuer responds
    The lady not waiting grabs his head
    with one hand and dunks him face down
    into the basin full of healing water
    A swoosh, then artful, gentle dabs
    with a holey shroud
    “It’s better, Mom,”
    We say in uniSon.
    JLB 2005

  6. Michelle says:

    I believe this poem is simply telling the truth. Your appearance on the outside is completely different that your emotional insides. Sometimes a person can have a great appearance and have the most dreadful life. OR>>>> Sometimes you become vain and forget about others and it takes over your true self, makes you mean and cold at times.

  7. Serenity says:

    What lies behind the masks that we wear? This is what Whitman is talking about. The inner pain, lies, and the inner secrets. This is truly an inspitational poem. It challenges everyone to peel away the fakeness and look into ones heart!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem better? If they are accepted, they will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.