I discovered a wonderful poem about art and aging called “Monet Refuses the Operation,” by Lisel Mueller. Claude 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!
MONET REFUSES THE OPERATION
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,
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.
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.