Naked Girl and Mirror by Judith Wright

Judith WrightIn Judith Wright’s poem, “Naked Girl and Mirror,” an anonymous adolescent girl struggles with self-identity in a mist of confusion. The poem begins with her reflection, both in the mirror and in her thoughts, and an analysis of what she’s becoming and what her position in life is expected to be. Throughout the core of the poem, a sense of betrayal is felt as the young girl is both in isolation and is trapped within herself. Her awkwardness with the changes that puberty imbibes is seen in her fear of adolescence and what lies beyond that. She is not only revealing her naked body in the mirror, but also her bare and stripped soul.

The last two stanzas of the poem, in particular, create a sense of urgency which really builds to a climax. In trying to figure out where this body came from and who ordered the curves and lines of womanhood to be imposed upon her, she also tries to find out who the woman in the mirror really is. She is detached from the lovely image, yet bound to it by expectation and truth. In floundering for the words to describe her new identity, she comes to the realization that she can still be true to herself, even with the projections that others may force upon her. She ends up accepting the changes her body has undergone, yet still refuses to believe it is her own when she says,

“I shall always resent your dumb and fruitful years.
Your lovers shall learn better, and bitterly too,
if their arrogance dares to think I am part of you.”

We can really identify with what Wright is exploring in this poem since we have all undergone the challenges which puberty forces us to face, in social identity and (for women) the roles in which women play in society. As we grow and change, not only physically, but mentally as well, our perspectives on life shift. “Naked Girl and Mirror” lets us glimpse into the girl’s inner dialogue and the self-consciousness that she feels in the complexity of her new role. Though she resists and feels double-crossed by her newly jeweled body, she must comply; she must yield to what the looking glass is offering her,

“I refuse to know or claim you. Let me go – let me be gone…
…I lean to your kiss. I must serve you; I will obey.”

While she may not have a choice with what her body is becoming, she can still own what she becomes from it. Others may expect her to conform to their standards, but she will still honor her own strength and stay true to herself. She learns to combine her confused love and hatred in order to reclaim her self-identity in a world which she is not yet sure of. Exploring the depth of physical and mental changes by facing them directly (as you do when looking into a mirror), Wright cracks open an honest perspective. What we see as a mere reflection is also a search for our true selves and what we see as the reflection of ourselves in others. The mirror both casts and distorts an image, throwing it back at us, forcing us to acknowledge the soul that resides within the form.

Naked Girl and Mirror

This is not I. I had no body once-
only what served my need to laugh and run
and stare at stars and tentatively dance
on the fringe of foam and wave and sand and sun.
Eyes loved, hands reached for me, but I was gone
on my own currents, quicksilver, thistledown.
Can I be trapped at last in that soft face?
I stare at you in fear, dark brimming eyes.
Why do you watch me with that immoderate plea-
‘Look under these curled lashes, recognize
that you were always here; know me-be me.’
Smooth once-hermaphrodite shoulders, too tenderly
your long slope runs, above those sudden shy
curves furred with light that spring below your space.No, I have been betrayed. If I had known
that this girl waited between a year and a year,
I’d not have chosen her bough to dance upon.
Betrayed, by that little darkness here, and here
this swelling softness and that frightened stare
from eyes I will not answer; shut out here
from my own self, by its new body’s grace-for I am betrayed by someone lovely. Yes,
I see you are lovely, hateful naked girl.
Your lips in the mirror tremble as I refuse
to know or claim you. Let me go-let me be gone.
You are half of some other who may never come.
Why should I tend you? You are not my own;
you seek that other-he will be your home.

Yet I pity your eyes in the mirror, misted with tears;
I lean to your kiss. I must serve you; I will obey.
Some day we may love. I may miss your going, some day,
though I shall always resent your dumb and fruitful years.
Your lovers shall learn better, and bitterly too,
if their arrogance dares to think I am part of you. 

-Judith A. Wright

This poem appears in the following works:

Judith Wright (1915-2000) was an acclaimed Australian poet and the author of several popular collections, receiving the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1992. Her work focused on environmentalism and social activism, with much emphasis on Aboriginal land rights as well as the relationship between mankind and the environment. She was a staple conservationist for the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island and was a founding member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. In 1994, she won the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Poetry Award for Collected Poems.

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