Art and Aging


I discovered a wonderful poem about art and aging called “Monet Refuses the Operation,” by Lisel MuellerClaude Monet developed cataracts as he grew older and he was very unhappy with the condition. He was advised by his doctors to have surgery and finally agreed to the operation in 1923. It was not a quick and relatively easy surgery then. He had to be immobilized for days afterward, so as to not move his eyes at all, but the surgery was successful and he was able to continue with his painting with renewed passion. Interestingly, he destroyed or repainted many of the paintings he had made during the period of time when he was most impacted by his cataracts.

This poem is a wonderful exploration of art and of the genius of the artist. It is full of color and nuance, words painted with insight and imagination.  Poetry is an important part of my life (my grandmother was a poet), and so I get really excited when I find a poem and poet that speaks to me.  This was an exciting discovery, and I look forward to reading more of Lisel Mueller’s wonderful poems!


Doctor, you say that 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 dissolve

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 changes 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

Does a poem count for my Art History Reading Challenge?  I hope so because I want to include it on my list of very enjoyable reading for that challenge.

5 thoughts on “Art and Aging

  1. Tabor

    I truly enjoyed reading this poem. The words “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.” was so appealing, sort of made me think of world peace.


  2. Elaine Magliaro

    Great poem! How beautifully Mueller paints her thoughts and impressions with words. I’ve read some of her work before. I love her poem about Sleeping Beauty entitled “Immortality.”

    Happy Fourth of July!


  3. Robin Post author

    Tabor, I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem, too!

    Thanks, Elaine. I haven’t read “Immortality” yet, but I’ll look for it. I was so excited to “discover” her and know that there are many more of her poems to enjoy.

    I agree, Gentle Reader. I love the idea that *we all see the world slightly differently, and that’s a great thing about humanity!*


  4. Lisa Plemmons Harrison Caddel

    Thank you for sharing this lovely poem. I appreciate the line early in the poem, “…it has taken me all my life to arrive at the vision…” The experience of living changes us all, and uniquely refines our point of view. Monet’s vision was indeed a beautiful one.
    I found this post thanks to Renee Phillips.



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