After Surgery, World Is No Longer a Monet

Claude Monet, “Houses of Parliament, London”

Tuesday

I’ve been feeling unbalanced since having cataract surgery on my left eye three weeks ago. While that eye sees just fine, the other sees things hazy. After all, it no longer has the benefit of my glasses.

I’ve been reassured that the brain will adjust and that, after a while, I won’t notice anything. If true, a Helena passage from Midsummer Night’s Dream may apply: 

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Theseus too has things to say about how the mind takes precedence over the eye:

The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

Granted, Helena and Theseus are talking about the mind, not the brain, but their observations about the unreliability of eyes still seem to apply.

Unfortunately, as a reader I am absolutely dependent on my eyes, which is why I opted for the surgery. I can’t take the route of Claude Monet in a wonderful Lisa Mueller poem that one of my friends sent me:

Monet Refuses the Operation

By Lisa Mueller

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.

 Before my surgery, the world was beginning to look like an impressionist painting. Especially challenging was reading titles on bookstore and library shelves. What I have now is far superior, even though I no longer see blue vapor without end.

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