Monet Refuses the Operation

Mueller, Lisel

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Jul-19-2002
  • Last revised: Jan-23-2013


Claude Monet (1840--1926) was a French impressionist painter. As he aged, he developed cataracts, but refused to have them surgically removed. In this 46-line free verse poem, Monet, the speaker, tries to make the doctor understand his reasons for refusing the operation.

What the doctor sees as deterioration, an "aberration" and an "affliction," is for the artist the result of a long process of development, a kind of culmination of his life’s work: exploring the way that people (rather than eyes) see. For Monet, removing the cataracts would "restore / my youthful errors" of vision, a world seen according to "fixed notions" of discrete objects rather than as the flux of pure light it has become. Monet wishes the doctor could see what he does: "if only you could see / how heaven pulls earth into its arms . . . ."


Mueller cleverly disrupts accepted notions of disability and health by having the artist argue so articulately for the value of his mature vision. He takes responsibility for his condition--to him, it is the result of work, not of an organic flaw. The doctor seems oddly literal--minded and misguided (and so, in a way, blind) for saying "there are no haloes / around the streetlamps" just because he can’t see them himself. The poem, with its lucid verbal recreation of Monet’s painting style, forms an eloquent argument for the importance of listening to patients.


First published: 1986. Mueller's Collection, Alive Together, won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize.

Primary Source

Alive Together: New and Selected Poems


Louisiana State Univ. Press

Place Published

Baton Rouge