Don’t Let the Cynics Get You Down
Here’s a gorgeous poem to remind us that what the world calls a visual aberration, an affliction, or just plain wacko, might be a different way of seeing — a way that reveals realities not normally seen:
Monet Refuses the Operation
by Lisel Mueller, from Second Language
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.
Artists like Monet and van Gogh saw the world in a way that was once rejected as crazy. But their work came to be prized in every meaning of that word. This Monet masterpiece is called “Parliament in London,” part of the priceless collection at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
You may not be a visual artist. But if you’re one of those “crazy” people who sees hopeful possibilities in a world that others claim is going to hell in a handbasket, don’t let the cynics do eye surgery on you!
You won’t become as famous as Monet, but you’ll achieve something equally important. You’ll open other people’s eyes to the daily opportunities we all have to help make this world a more life-giving place for all concerned.