Thursday, July 25, 2013

`They Say Eyes Clear With Age'

The first of several eye tests left me with a momentary lightshow I could control with the blink of an eye – electric green quadrilaterals with eyes closed, the same shapes in magenta and yellow when open. I pointed this out to the ophthalmologist, who delivered an informative lecture on the retina’s light-sensitive cells and their tendency to send data to the brain even with the lights turned off. I like doctors’ shop talk and I like asking a lot of questions. It takes my mind off cataract surgery, though the doctor assured me eyes have no pain receptors. 

He raised an unexpected possibility: After two surgeries, one for each eye, and an outpatient “scraping” of the cornea, I might no longer need glasses. There was a time when that would have seemed like a gift. I’ve worn glasses since I was eleven or twelve, prescribed that first time by a Hungarian optometrist with witheringly bad breath, and bifocals since I was forty. They’re an extension of me, almost a prosthesis, and I can’t imagine life without them. I thought of vulnerable Mr. Sammler who “in his goggles was troubled in focusing.” Lens-less, I’m too befuddled. I declined. The cataracts come off in September. 

Philip Larkin, owlishly spectacled, once likened his head to “an egg sculpted in lard, wearing goggles.” A 1955 poem, “Long Sight in Age” (The Complete Poems, 2012), addresses vision in several senses and that chilling phrase “They say”: 

“They say eyes clear with age,
As dew clarifies air
To sharpen evenings,
As if time put an edge
Round the last shape of things
To show them there;
The many-levelled trees,
The long soft tides of grass
Wrinkling away the gold
Wind-ridden waves- all these,
They say, come back to focus
As we grow old.”

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