Monday Poem: “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The Monday Poem

I had to do an analysis of this poem for English class once. The reason I chose it was because it stuck with me, even if it’s not especially subtle or well-written:

Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked,
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich–yes, richer than a king–
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

courtesy of poetrySoup.com

I love the way it builds him up and builds him up, then with an abruptness that might in fact be likened to the firing of a bullet, suddenly we see that he (that is, Richard Cory) may have everything that the poorer people want but he’s still not happy with his life – in fact, he’s so unhappy he commits suicide. On the surface, you could see this as an injunction not to take people as they are, or perhaps that money cannot buy happiness; but it also puts me in mind of the quote, “The most efficient way of rendering the poor harmless is to teach them to imitate the rich” from Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. The narrator’s struggles to imitate Richard Cory, in the hopes of having everything he has, are abruptly rendered dangerous and untenable by Cory’s unexpected suicide. In that sense, it’s also a warning to temper envy with insight and make do with what one has rather than be taken in by the veneer of happiness. An interesting piece.

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