Monet Refuses the Operation

Lisel Mueller

Lisel Mueller

Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1924, Lisel Mueller is a translator and poet who won a Pulitzer prize in 1997 for her works. She and her family immigrated to the United States at age 15 to escape the Nazi regime and she later attended University of Evansville.

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 parallel 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?

Lisel Mueller reads Monet Refuses The Operation

Monet Refuses the Operation (con't)

I will not return to a universe

of objects that do not 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 if 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 chance 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.

Some Helpful Info...

This poem is written from the perspective of French impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) as if he was speaking to his ophthalmologist. Monet had been diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in his old age but his vision problems were said to have begun earlier than that. He complained that the cataracts altered his perception of colors as well as their intensity. This was shown in his paintings through the color shift from blues-greens in his earlier works to yellows-purples in his later. As much as his eyesight bothered him, Monet was reluctant to get surgery for a while; his impressionist personality was fascinated by the foggy new world he saw. In several points throughout the poem, the author alludes to various works Monet had painted throughout his life.

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The author, Lisel Mueller, is trying to communicate that what society, represented by the doctor, sees as deterioration and aging is truly the culmination of life experiences that leads to wisdom, allowing a person to see the world in a more beautiful light.

The poem could also be trying to express that the young curiosity of the world nowadays (represented by the doctor) is getting so caught up in trying to figure how and why works as they do through numbers and science that they can no longer see the beauty, mystery, and magic in not knowing. Much like if you take an impressionist painting like Monet's works, the scientific world is getting so caught up in looking at the little brush strokes that they don't take a step back to see the big picture that is created.

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