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Posts Tagged ‘dobyns’

In pursuit

Interior, Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoYesterday the Writer’s Almanac featured Pursuit, a poem by Stephen Dobyns that begins:

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass—
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.

Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited.

I initially recognized the poem as an anthem for our plugged-in age—when our fingers and our brains pursue the next click even as we’re only beginning to absorb what’s currently before us (never mind actually grapple with that one thing, or complete it). But Dobyns, who published “Pursuit” in 1987, isn’t laying blame for his concurrent agitation, distraction, guilt, and regret on an external force such as the Internet. It’s all his: “the confusion of childhood/loping behind me, the chaos in the mind/the failure chipping away at each success.”

How remote 1987 seems from 2012. No distractions of email or Facebook or YouTube. But Dobyns was having a hard time staying focused even then. He recognizes his struggle for what it is: a race against time, a fear of slowing down, a need to keep the past at bay by rushing headlong into the future. Behind it all, the ultimate pursuer, Death. Yet, Dobyns hangs on to his greater purpose, the “cathedral” he’s toiling to build, that which will remain—even if only half-built—when the stock car races are forgotten.

With today’s multiplicity of diversions, do I let myself off too easily, blaming my own lack of achievement on external forces when I should be looking within? Does my frittering away in the here and now provide such an illusion of busy-ness that I can hide from my own cathedral-building work? Do I even know what my larger purpose is anymore, or am I content with stock car races?

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