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At the Restaurant

At the Restaurant

Handwritten Draft of "At the Resturant," Before March, 2000

At the Restaurant

Mock Up Draft of "At the Resturant," March, 2000

At the Restaurant

First Pass Draft of "At the Resturant," March, 2000

     “At the Restaurant” begins with an epigraph from Fernando Pessoa that states, “Life would be unbearable if we made ourselves conscious of it.”  This epigraph serves as a summary for the mood of the entire poem.  After reading this poem about a dinner between three couples, the reader is left feeling connected to the speaker who wants to fight against the “social contract” of life.  Feelings of anger and anxiety are intertwined with examples of feigned excitement and dinner talk about food.  Dunn illustrates how hard it really is to make small talk and be present when you are some place you’d rather not be.   

     The Hofstra University Library's Special Collections' University Archives had the handwritten draft of “At the Restaurant.” This poem appeared in every step of the editing process of Different Hours. From the first pass with edits to the third pass, a notable change occurs in the eighth stanza.  Instead of keeping the line, “you can pull this off,” which appeared in the previous drafts, Dunn changed it completely.  By revising this line to now read, “before, behave, feign,” Dunn changes the tone of the poem.  In the third pass, this line gets shortened to “behave, feign.”  Before this edit, this line made the poem seem like a pep talk; however, after the multiple line revisions, it sounds more like commands that one would give to an animal. 

   From the handwritten draft to the third pass, the last line is changed, as well.  Instead of repeating the word inexcusable to begin the last two lines, Dunn changes the beginning of the final line by using the word insufficient.  Describing the “merely decent man” as insufficient instead of inexcusable, Dunn echoes the poem’s epigraph more clearly.  The pettiness of life and going through the motions is unbearable to those who think deeply and too much.