Liesel Mueller – Monet Refuses The Operation

If I remember correctly, I first found this poem thru Garrison Keillor’s website. It got copied into my memorable poem folder and added to my personal anthology. I keep telling myself there are benefits to getting older, and here in this poem, she convinces me.

Monet Refuses The Operation

Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights of 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.

Liesel Mueller

Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany, February 8, 1924 to parents Fritz C. Neumann and Ilse (Burmester) Neumann, both of whom were teachers. When she was fifteen, she fled to American with her family to escape Nazi persecution. They settled in Indiana, where she attended Evansville College (later the University of Evansville) and met Paul Mueller. On June 15, 1943, they married while he was on leave from basic training. In 1950, they attended the University of Indiana where Lisel studied folklore and mythology and Paul studied musicology. After living in Evanston, Illinois in 1958 the Muellers settled into the countryside on the prairie outskirts of western Lake Forest, IL. There they raised two daughters, Lucy and Jenny, and lived for forty-one years until 1999, when she and Paul moved into a retirement home in Chicago. Lisel Mueller is currently living in Chicago.

Her books of poetry include
Alive Together: New & Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996), which won the Pulitzer Prize
Learning to Play by Ear (1990)
Waving from Shore (1989)
Second Language (1986)
The Need to Hold Still (1980), which received the National Book Award
Voices from the Forest (1977)
The Private Life, which was the 1975 Lamont Poetry Selection
Dependencies (1965).


13 Responses to “Liesel Mueller – Monet Refuses The Operation”

  1. Love this poem. Did you know that Lisel Mueller donated her entire poetry collection to Lake Forest College. This made me think about you and your growing collection, perhaps you could do the same somday in the far far far far far off future and save the collection from being sold at a garage sale by your children.

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      I knew she lived near Lake Forest but not about her donation. I’m sure it was quite a bit larger than mine…

  2. Beautiful! No wonder you saved it, Paul.

    It’s lyrical on its own, but even more stunning is the visual tour it takes us on through Monet’s work as it unspools.

  3. I wish having poor eyesight was really that beautiful. Or maybe I just wish we could all see that kind of beauty in blurry fuzziness while we squint and stumble around looking for things we can’t see.

  4. Alison (blueraven95) Says:

    coming late to the party on this one, but woah – it’s beautiful! Thank you for sharing.


  5. PJ DeGenaro aka Chorophyll Says:

    Chills down my spine from first line to last. Thank you.

  6. Stumbled upon your wonderful site as I googled for material, having decided I would post a Liessel Mueller page for tomorrow , having loved hr for some time, and since I stole six last lines of hers, then altered them for a Pantoume today. I intend to construct several items on my blog, and will probably steal from this post as well. I will credit your site, and direct my modest clan of readers to you. If you object, I will remove the post of course.

  7. you must see/hear this….the only one I know of where she herself reads her work!

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