On Reflection

A poem

                         Michael Faraday

 

I will never contain the whole of it, he said,

the mirror too small for the long-necked lamp

floating swan-like near the angle of incidence.

Never, he said, stepping back from the lectern

 

and long-necked lamp, the mirror he held too small

for the swan. To reflect the object entirely,

he said, stepping back to the lectern,

the glass must be half the source’s height.

 

To reflect the object entirely—the lamp,

or a swan, or my figure before you—

the glass must be half the source’s height.

Unlike thought, which easily triples the whole.

 

My figure before you, the lamp’s swan,

reflects my object entirely; that is, unlike

thought, which easily triples—or transforms—the whole,

the mirror is bound by harmony.

 

Entirely. Unlike the object reflected.

Finally, when you back away from the glass, your image—

the mirror is bound by harmony—

always doubles the distance between you.

 

As it finally backs away through the glass,

light doubling its loss through angles of reflection,

your image doubles the distance between you—always

twice as far from the source as you are before it:

 

like a thought doubly lost through an act of reflection

floating swan-like past its angle of incidence,

twice as far from its mate as a lamp from a mirror

that will never contain the whole of it.

Linda Bierds’s most recent collection is Flight: New and Selected Poems (2008). She teaches at the University of Washington.
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