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,

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.

 

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 jbolin@murraystate.edu. “Home and Away” runs each Tuesday in the Murray Ledger & Times. 

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