The Mirror

Camera_Work_cover.jpg

Dublin Core

Title

The Mirror

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Mabel’s “The Mirror”: A Thesis on Herself

Though not the most notable literary achievement, Mabel Dodge’s “The Mirror” employs poetic devices to display how she perceived her role in the modernism movement and in history more generally. Dodge actually does not publish many of her pieces, and this one was only likely published because of Lincoln Steffens's role in the publication of Camera Work. Steffens was a huge fan of Dodge’s open ideology and promotion of modernist thought. Dodge’s poem illustrates that she understood the gravity and importance of her role in Bohemia. “The Mirror” also conveys how Dodge was calculating and systematic in maintaining connection and supporting artists and reformers. Dodge didn’t promote Bohemia sporadically; she saw herself as occupying a unique role. Dodge saw it as a sort of destiny that was different from any set definition. The use of a poetic form to explore herself shows Dodge’s dedication to self-exploration. Dodge’s use of form also displays the lack of success in her own artistic pursuits. Her lack of success was partially linked to her class and background separation from most other artists of Greenwich Village. Rudnick writes that “Mabel outlined her mission in a poem [“The Mirror”] that Stieglitz later published in Camera Work. It defined more broadly and boldly the intentions of Mabel’s Bohemia” (1548). “The Mirror” displays Dodge’s self-involvement and light narcissism alongside her dedication to others, making “The Mirror” an accurate portrait of Dodge’s own complexity.

Dodge’s use of an epigraph at the beginning of “The Mirror” plays off the trends in early 20th century Bohemia to look back on the classics as a way to connect to the greater human experience. Dodge’s selected quote, “Man is the measure of all things” by Protagoras, reflects her own dedication to humanity and the individual as the source of meaning in life. It is significant that she chooses “Protagoras” because he was considered a wise philosopher, and therefore, Dodge uses this name to give herself more credibility in an artistic world dominated by male voices. Despite being formally educated as a member of high society America, Dodge’s gender would have discredited most of her own work that bordered on philosophy. Therefore, her use of Protagoras can be seen as an attempt to counteract the treatment of written work of women.

Dodge’s choice to describe herself as a mirror is a fitting symbol for the unique work Dodge did for Bohemia. Dodge strives to help artists more fully realize the truth within themselves. Dodge wrote, “I am the mirror where in man sees man,” to symbolize how she desired to use her abilities to help others understand themselves and each other more fully. She goes on to describe herself as a mirror to man’s “venturing mind,” and “eager heart” to further establish her determination to help individuals along their own journey of self-exploration. Dodge believed that in discovering the self, individuals could better understand and respect each other. Dodge wishes to help people realize their own goals. She occupied a unique position given her wealth, connections, and status, and this allowed her to further the cause of artists beyond what they can envision. Dodge directing other artist’s visions actually creates some friction between her and some of her contemporaries like Gertrude Stein. Dodge writes, “I hear the hidden part that is the rest/ of every part.” Dodge speaks in broad terms to attempt to establish her expansive ability to make connections between seemingly distant people and ideas. She also writes that, “In me lie the answers to each human call.” Similarly, Dodge is explaining that she believes she has been given the power to guide others, to help them find meaning.

“The Mirror” also conveys Dodge’s dedication to complicating discourse and not searching for concrete answers. Dodge’s “Evenings” embody this dedication to complicating issues that might seem two sided or “split down the middle.” For example, one of Dodge’s more famous evening discussions was between the anarchists and socialist labor reform factions. The poem establishes and breaks down dualities using parallel structure. Dodge writes, “I am the good, the bad, the infinite all,” which establishes “good” and “bad” only to reject them in order to convey that everyone displays both extremes of a duality. Rowbotham writes on Dodge’s dedication to fluid understanding and says, “Mabel Dodge Luhan’s mercurial crazes signified a wider restlessness of the modern woman who did not want to be pinned down… Dodge sought to define the new woman as a woman not yet classified” (46). Dodge was living in a time still caught in the grip of the dualities and confines of rigid Victorian tradition, and therefore her thrust to dissemble dualities is rooted in a greater desire to push for the “New”.

Despite “The Mirror” accurately displaying Dodge’s “new” ideology and beliefs in her destiny to help others fully realize themselves, the piece itself lacks much literary depth and also illuminates Dodge’s own self-involvement. Dodge attempts to work in the form by using a structured rhyme. She does so a bit less smoothly than her peers. Most of the rhymes of the poem fall very harshly. For example, the whole poem follows a heavy ABBA rhyme scheme with an inconsistent rhythm which makes the piece sonically not very graceful. Dodge wanted to be an artist, but her experiences separate her from some of the more ground breaking work of her peers like Mina Loy or Edna Saint Vincent Millay, who more tactfully bend poetry to their will. Dodge also refers to herself as both “Fate” and “God”. In one regard, this can be seen as a beautiful display of confidence and an attempt for a woman to de-masculinize symbols of power.

Rowbotham, Sheila. Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth
Century. New York: Verso, 2010. Print.
Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 1548-1549). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

Camera Work

Date

1914

Contributor

Jonathan Green

Format

Poem

Language

English

Type

Poem

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

The Mirror

“Man is the measure of all things”— Protagoras

I am the mirror wherein man sees man,
Whenever he looks deep into my eyes
And looks for me alone, he there descries
The human plan.

I am the mirror of man’s venturing mind,
And in my face alone he yet may read
The only reason for the every need
Of humankind.

I am the mirror of man’s eager heart,
Within me lies the secret of his quest:
I hear the hidden part that is the rest
Of every part.

I am the mirror of the insatiate,
I am the good, the bad, the infinite all,
In me lie the answers to each human call
For I am Fate.

I am the many and the one, the odd
As well as even. Ever in my form
God is renewed each time a man is born—
For I am God.

I am the alternating peace and strife—
I am the mirror of all man ever is—
I am the sum of all that has been his—
For I am Life.

Original Format

Poetry