W.H. Auden’s Horae Canonicae

We live in a multi-tasking world, but every so often we get lost in a task. We become so lost in what we are doing that time flies. We miss a meal, not because we are busy, but rather, because we are so lost in what we are doing that we fail to notice we are hungry.

“And only those who have experienced that complete absorption of the self in something else,” writes Alan Jacobs in ,”something beautiful, know also what it means to have misplaced that capacity; only we know the anxiety that arises from the fear we may never have that again,” writes Alan Jacobs in The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.

Jacobs argues that these moments are why attention is worth cultivating: “not just because it’s good for you or because it can help you ‘organize your world,’ but because such raptness is deeply satisfying.

In his series of poems, Horae Canonicae, W.H. Auden captures this desirable condition:

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.