Where do we go from here?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Vision

I was browsing through my old private AOL Journal (exported to Blogger  - or should that be imported? - when AOL Journals closed) yesterday, and happily came across this poem by Lisel Mueller that I had included in a post there.  I'm not sure why I included it then, except that I loved it, and had seen an exhibit of Monet's paintings from his old age in New Orleans some years ago - the poem helped me understand the paintings, made me love Monet even more. I'm not sure how historically based the poem may be - much of what I've read tells me he struggled against the growing blurriness of vision and loss of color perception caused by his cataracts.  In any case, I know I'm certainly struggling with mine. As a visual artist Monet was dependent on his vision, but he used even his aberrant perception in his waning years to put his impressions on canvas.  It was his loss of color more than loss of the sharp outlines that distressed him; But I'm finding it very hard to live without those edges.  My opthamologist tells me I probably won't have to wear glasses for distance vision after the operations, and perhaps only nonprescription reading glasses.  It all seems much too amazing to believe, for someone who's worn glasses for almost sixty years - since she was seven years old, and now wears bifocals. It's interesting to note that Claude Monet did have The Operation, in 1923, three years before his death.

Monet Refuses The Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Lisel Mueller


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your operation, it is amazing what can be done now. I had knee surgery on a knee a couple of years ago that twenty years ago I was told could not be operated on.
Wonderful poem about Monet, and just about perception in general. Lovely thoughts.