Thursday, September 29, 2005

Monet Refuses The Operation

I have an elderly Cambodian patient with severe cataracts, who is nearly blind now because of them. The ophthalmologist diagnosed her cataracts over 12 years ago, but she has steadfastly refused to have surgery to correct them. She says she can still thread a needle to do her sewing, so why does she need an operation? As I was once again trying to let go of my agenda, about what I thought she needed to do, I was reminded of this wonderful poem by Lisel Mueller, recalling Monet and his cataracts.

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.

From Second Language,
Published by Louisiana State University Press
© 1986 Lisel Mueller


C. Dale said...

Not sure why, but this reminded me of the realization an ophthalmologist made upon first seeing Van Gogh's work. It looks very much like the distorted vision people being poisoned with foxglove (aka digitalis). He checked and lo and behold, Van Gogh had used foxglove and probably taken it for too long or took too much of it. His identifiable style was basically a product of drugs! In this case a ridiculous concoction made from the foxglove plant. Weird to think of all the cardiac patients today taking digitalis.

Peter said...

C Dale: interesting story. I had not heard of digitalis intoxication being behind Van Gogh's unique vision/style before. But you can see it in all the yellow haloes, and such. I wonder if it was a cause of his mental illness, as well.

A. D. said...

I've read of vision disorders affecting the work of Monet and Degas as well.

Check this site out.

Peter said...

AD: Great site, with good pics as examples. Thanks.
It's fascinating to wonder if El Greco's elongated painting style might have been the result of astigmatism.

jenni said...

Very cool poem.

I'll have to look up more work from this poet.