Monet refuses the operation

When I came across this poem I was moved by the discription of the vision of Monet. Gratefully accepting the state of affairs. It’s for me a reminder to put my agenda concerning better vision aside and see the beauty in what I see right now. It relaxes my effort and lets the active focus happen.

Lisel Mueller, a German born poet and translator who escaped the terror of the Nazis with her family, is best known for her imaginative lyrical poems on family and the human condition.

Monet Refuses the Operation first appeared in her book The Private Life, 1975/76.

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 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 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.

For those interested I found it here an analysis


Wow that’s awesome. Vision imitating art, or did his art reflect how he physically saw the world? I’m in way too many other rabbit holes to dig into this one, so if you know please share.

1 Like

I can’t speak in absolute terms but I did reasearch a bit when I first read the poem and looked through his paintings chronologically. In 1913 he refused the operation so I started looking a couple of years before that and in my opinion his art reflected how he physically saw the world.
He underwent the operation in 1923 and I could not notice that he painted differently so I assumed the operation did not pay off.

Prompted by your question I did a new search and I found this interesting article.
The effect of cataracts and cataract surgery on Claude Monet

Interesting because it tells us his vision in both eyes, what he tried to avoid the operation, how the surgery was performed, how he was supposed to recuperate, his unhappiness with the result and the lenses that made him paint again.

I looked again at some of his last pictures and noticed a lot more appreciation for them so thank you for the opportunity to dig in this rabbithole again. I wasn’t sure what you meant by vision imitating art but I found some truly beautiful examples of life imitating art.