Tuesday, February 24, 2009

That Eye-On-The-Object Look

by W. H. Auden

You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.

I was fishing a local trout stream last summer, my attention fixed on a fish that was rising nearby, casting without thinking, forgetting myself in a function.

I looked up and there on the bank I spied an acquaintance...Dave Tucker, a nationally known fly-fishing guide and outfitter. Immediately I became aware of my own performance, bungled the next cast and put the fish down. So it is when we turn our attention away from the function at hand and think about ourselves.

"Forgetting myself in a function." Auden's phrase comes to mind when I'm in the presence of a friend. How often have I allowed my attention to wander away: wondering how I look, how I'm perceived, what this person thinks of me.

No, my "function" then is to attend, to concentrate, to listen carefully, to be fully present in rapt attention, concentrating on the one in front of me to the exclusion of everything and everyone else--forgetting myself in a function.

"How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look."


[1] Excerpted from a longer poem

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