Analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson

 

Edwin Arlington Robinson, (1869-1935) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was also nominated for the Nobel prize for literature. He was born in Maine but had an unhappy childhood since his parents seemed largely indifferent to him. His poetry often dwelt on bleak themes, perhaps based on these first-hand experiences. Richard Cory is a short dramatic poem about a man whose outward appearance veils his inner turmoil. The setting may be Tilbury Town in Maine which was the setting of many of his poems. However, many think that the poem ‘Richard Cory’ could have been based upon his brother who came to an inauspicious end when his business collapsed.

 

Overview

Title: The name Richard Cory appears to allude to England’s King Richard I, who earned the name Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lion-Hearted) for his valiant fighting in the Crusades. The name is attributed to the person in the poem to attribute him kingly characteristics.

Theme: Appearances is deceiving/ Money can’t buy happiness.

Tone: Conversational (frequent use of and)

Narration: 1st person narration. (we - the people of the town are the poem's speakers, working-class citizens who has little materialistic pleasures.)

Structure: written in four quatrains and iambic pentameter with a simple ABAB rhyme scheme.

Main literary technique: irony

 

Reading between lines.

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him;

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

 

Symbol: crown (king) attributed Richard Cory kingly characteristics.

English term: Pavement (pavement is the British Term for sidewalk)

Alliteration: Whenever, went/ people on the pavement

Visual imagery: clean favored and imperially slim

Use of Past Tense: suggests that this is a past story and Richard Cory no longer exists.

Conversational language: we people

 

Richard Cory is introduced by the people on the pavement. People in the pavement suggests the poor life condition of the speakers. Comparing to them, they see Richard Cory as a royal figure. He seems to be like an idol or a celebrity to them. The royal or kingly words used to describe him like: crown, imperially reveals the attitude of the onlookers about Richard Cory. The final two lines of this stanza suggests that he was a morally upright fellow who carries such a royal grace in his appearance.

 

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.

 

Anaphora: and he was always (shows his consistency of his good qualities)

Assonance: fluttered pulses

Visual imagery: glittered (it may be his golden watches and necklaces that glitter)

Metaphor: he was always human (to attribute of good qualities that a good human possesses)

 

People on the pavement regularly waits to see his gentle acquaintance which he produces consistently. They feel a triumphant-shiver when Richard Cory addresses them which is like a celebrity or somebody royal comes to them and speaks with them. People may be attributing divinity to him by the words ‘he glittered’ 

 

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.

 

Anaphora: and (conversational; shows their excitement when describing him)

Contrast: richer than a king (exaggerating his wealth)

Alliteration: wish, we were (create a sound effect like sighing)

Richard Cory was the role model of the people on the pavement. For them he was the ultimate goal to reach – both richness and virtue. However, the final two lines creates doubts in the reader; by the phrase: ‘we thought he was everything’ It is hinted that what they thought was not the truth, that he was not the perfect one.

 

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.

 

Metaphor: light (hope for a better life)

Alliteration: went without (sighing sound)

Euphemism: put a bullet through his head (suicided)

Anaphora: and (shows hesitation)

Symbol: meat and bread (meat for richness or royalty and bread for poverty or poor life condition)

 

A common reality is brought through the struggle of the poor to lead a better life. They follow a role model and try to strive to be somebody like him, and during the course they do not value what they actually have - as they always compare things with what they dream to consume. To everyone’s surprise, the perfect idol of everyone suicides himself for an unknown reason. Everyone is left wondering what on earth could have preempted the suicide from a man who appeared to have everything, including the respect of the townspeople.

This reveals another reality of life: that we cannot judge a book by its cover. In a world of uncertainty, nothing is perfect. Nobody can be judgmental about others. A person’s life is like an ice burg, one can see only the tip of it. Similarly, Richard Cory might have been leading a miserable life which he could not openly show. His struggle to manage his life of duality might have suffocated him to take such a decision.

You may also like to read about another perspective of the poem: Richard Cory, Expectations vs Reality here.

What is your idea of the poem? Let’s share them in the comment section. Share the post if you find this useful to others.

 

 

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