As I have become aged (a word I pronounce with two syllables) — a relic — it is crystal clear to me that my eyesight worsens with each passing year. This, in spite of the care of Dr. Reed Jarvis, whose heroic efforts bring relief, even though I find myself juggling several pairs of reading glasses. I used to wear contact lenses, eyeglasses of a general sort, and computer glasses for a specific usage. Then I had cataract surgery which helped immensely.
Before my eye surgery and before my retirement, when a student appeared at my office door, only to see me frantically, awkwardly fumbling to take off one pair of glasses, while at the same time trying to replace them with another pair, the student must have wondered, “Now, what is it with the eccentric professor? There is absolutely no telling. No telling at all.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for the improved eyesight that I now have post-surgery. There were times, however, when sitting on the porch of our writing cabin, when I enjoyed looking out onto our backyard with no visual aides whatever; just my naked, pre-surgery eyes. It was at those times that I realized why I have always been drawn to the marvels of the impressionist artists, especially to the paintings of Claude Monet. And it was the following poem of Lisel Mueller that brought it all into clearer focus for me. In “Monet Refuses the Operation,” Mueller wrote:
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,
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.
I think it might be those times of blurry-eyed porch meditations that I experienced a glimpse of heaven, so real that however artists have painted it — Monet’s “Lilies” or his “Rouen Cathedral” or his gardens at Giverney; or however writers have expressed it — Robert Penn Warren’s “world enough and time,” or C. S. Lewis’ “a moment made eternity,” — I know beyond a shadow of a doubt in that transcendent instant, that there is more, so much more, beyond what we experience as pilgrims in what is at once a world of wonder and woe.
Duane Bolin is Professor Emeritus of History at Murray State University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Home and Away” runs each Tuesday in the Murray Ledger & Times.