Featured Poem#2: Monet Refuses the Operation – Lisel Mueller

Here’s another high school favorite of mine. This incandescent piece by Lisel Mueller is a brilliant reimagining of Claude Monet’s decision to have his cataracts removed. Except, this time, the painter refuses to go through with the operation. Mueller explains the painter’s decision by the describing the world as it must have appeared to him—fluid and ethereal. Through combining superb writing with vivid imagery, the poetess creates a breathtaking picture of a world unhindered by borders.

Now, imagery has always been the weak point of my poetry. That is why, whenever I read works as ‘stunning’ as Monet Refuses the Operation, I feel incredibly humbled—and a touch hopeful that one day, I too can create something as glorious.

Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no halos

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 visions 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 House 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 the earth into its arms

and how infinitely the heart expands

to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

 

Image: Claude Monet’s Water Lily Pond (1897, 1899) from Canvaz.com

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