Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monet Refuses the Operation

I love this poem for the surprise of its premise. I love the intensity with which Mueller describes argues for the unexpected benefits that age and experience bring and how we only have to stop and look hard at the world find some balance for what we have lost


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 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

Lisel Mueller

Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1924 and immigrated to America at the age of 15. She is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Alive Together: New & Selected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1996. Other awards include the Lamont Poetry Prize (1975), the National Book Award (1981), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (2002). She lives in Chicago.


Using strong imagery and a strong, idiosyncratic voice, write a poem that makes a compelling argument for something that, at first glance, seems illogical—without naming what the narrator is arguing for or against. You may choose a famous person, as Mueller did, or an ordinary person, perhaps someone you know

1 comment:

Laura said...

This is one of my all-time favorites! Thanks for reminding me how wonderful it is.