I have always felt a kinship with this poem, as I think many women do, because it illuminates the power of the secrets so many of us have felt we had to keep within. And now in the wake of writing this post about silence and breaking silence about sexual abuse, it means even more to me. How heartbreaking to think of all the women before us who had no choice but to keep their secrets. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, for having the courage to write this!
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR
by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907)
I sat before my glass one day,
And conjured up a vision bare,
Unlike the aspects glad and gay,
That erst were found reflected there -
The vision of a woman, wild
With more than womanly despair.
Her hair stood back on either side
A face bereft of loveliness.
It had no envy now to hide
What once no man on earth could guess.
It formed the thorny aureole
Of hard, unsanctified distress.
Her lips were open - not a sound
Came though the parted lines of red,
Whate'er it was, the hideous wound
In silence and secret bled.
No sigh relieved her speechless woe,
She had no voice to speak her dread.
And in her lurid eyes there shone
The dying flame of life's desire,
Made mad because its hope was gone,
And kindled at the leaping fire
Of jealousy and fierce revenge,
And strength that could not change nor tire.
Shade of a shadow in the glass,
O set the crystal surface free!
Pass - as the fairer visions pass -
Nor ever more return, to be
The ghost of a distracted hour,
That heard me whisper: - 'I am she!'