Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant

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Diego Romero
Eng 2100
Dr. Duncan

Essay 1
If I knew then, what I know now…

When reading narrative poetry it is just as important to look at how the author puts together his story as it is reading what the story actually says. In “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant”, Billy Collins writes about reflection on the past and later understanding. Underlying is a theme of learning appreciation for the things that we may not comprehend. The poem is didactic in nature, teaching us that over time, we can come to realize the value of our environment. The poem begins with the speaker declaring appreciation that he did not write a poem about an elderly man he had observed eating alone in a restaurant. He also conceded however that he might have never even had the urge to write the poem in the first place. The word “if” in the second line leads us to this idea. As a young man observing, he might have been apathetic toward the situation. The speaker goes on to explain his reasoning for his appreciation. He states that he would not of correctly assessed the situation he was in observance of. He would of felt badly for the patron dining alone, seemingly lonely with “not a friend in the world / and with only a book for a companion.” He completes his thought by stating a stereotype that the lonely old man, as many elderly do, would pay his bill with change out of a purse. In the third stanza, the author begins to develop an understanding of why someone might choose to, rather than be forced to, dine alone. He reaffirms his thankfulness for waiting to write the poem and begins to describe the fare. He writes about the exactness of the soup and the refreshment of the beer. He is admiring the restaurant for its quality. He continues, and for the first time, hints at the idea that he has come to replace the man he observed in his youth. “And my book… / … is so absorbing that I look up…” This indicates the he is now the one sitting at the restaurant, with only the...
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