Tuesday, December 24, 2013

`Eyes Are Vocall, Tears Have Tongues'

Can vision be too acute? Can we see too much, too clearly? It felt that way. As I drove home wearing my new glasses, the ones engineered for my post-cataract eyes, the world seemed dense with detail previously undefined, and the bright winter sun exaggerated the new clarity. Trees looked not just alive but animated, steps away from Sorcerer’s Apprentice locomotion, and the clean curves and primary colors of gas stations took on a hyperrealist sheen. Tackiness and wonder vied for dominance around a mansion in River Oaks, all red and gold and extravagantly Nutcracker-themed. Some things are best left unseen or seen only incompletely, but seeing things new begs articulation. The world is there to be read. Richard Crashaw (c. 1613-1649) sings synesthesically in “Upon the Death of a Gentleman”: 

“Eyes are vocall, teares have tongues,

And there be words not made with lungs.” 

Back home, late morning, a stuffed animal all tufted and mottled with grays sat on the pavement in front of the closed garage door. He looked like a miniature version of those inflated clowns that right themselves after you’ve punched them. He was an Eastern screech owl, the sort birders call a gray morph. The eyes of owls account for up to five percent of their weight. (Proportionally, the eyes of a two-hundred-pound man would weigh ten pounds.) Their eyes are not spherical like ours but tubular. They can look only forward and cannot roll their eyes, but can rotate their heads about two hundred-seventy degrees. They have three eyelids. They are nocturnal but are not blind in daylight as folklore suggests. On average, owl visual acuity in darkness is one hundred times our own. Thoreau asked in his journal entry for Jan. 4, 1859: “What if you could witness with owls’ eyes the revelry of the wood mice some night, frisking about the wood like so many kangaroos?”

No comments: