A Summary and Analysis of Edwin Arlington Robinson's 'Richard Cory'

'Richard Cory' by Edwin Arlington Robinson: Summary and Analysis
A simple yet profound four-stanza poem, Richard Cory, by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes right into the depths of the readers' heart. The poem follows on the lines of the proverb 'Do not judge the book by its cover.' A detailed analysis of the poem with Penlighten will help you understand it better.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
What's In A Name?
A shocking description of his childhood as being "stark and unhappy" by Edwin Arlington Robinson himself, shook the entire world. His birth, having squashed his parents' desire of having a girl child, became a reason for them to not give him a name. After six long months, the day for the baby to receive his name, dawned. The name was drawn from a hat by a man from Arlington, Massachusetts, who was chosen by the vacationers when his parents were on a holiday. They decided to christen the baby as they thought it was time to do so. He grew up hating the name along with the nickname, Win, given to him. He preferred to sign his name as E.A. even as an adult.
Has your judgement or perception about someone been completely wrong, because that someone was completely different to what you thought him to be? The saying―Appearances can be deceptive is so true. An effort to getting to know the person without being judgmental solves the problem. This is probably what E. A. Robinson wanted to convey in his famous poem Richard Cory.

The poem is about a wealthy yet polite and well-groomed man, Richard Cory, who is envied by the entire town he lives in. However, a sudden change occurs in the way people perceive Cory. How?

Let's read further...
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.

- Edwin Arlington Robinson
Literary Analysis
Poem Summary
◤ The narrator of the poem belongs to a lower class in society. He and the people in the town are in awe of Richard Cory, a rich and famous man. He, by his elegant personality and impeccable manners, would make every head turn in his direction whenever he walked into town. Richard Cory is described as a wealthy person with a touch of royalty which is represented in the poem with phrases like "crown", "favored", and "imperially".
◤ He never makes a public display of his wealth and is quite humble in his dealings with people. This does not in any way change the perception that people have of him. Even a casual "Good Morning!" from him stuns people into silence as his mere presence depicts an impression of glow around him.
◤ The poet describes him as being "richer than a king," in terms of wealth and grooming alike. His appearance and polite behavior sows the seed of covetousness in people who aspire to be in his shoes.
◤ However, the harsh reality that they could never be like him stares right back at them. Frustrated and forlorn, they continue to work hard awaiting better days ahead. Their envy of Cory causes them to get so depressed that they curse their stale bread and their inability to buy meat. However, they are unaware that Cory shoots himself in the head one night.
Structure
◤ The poem's structure is simple and classic. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each containing four lines. It uses a simple abab, cdcd, efef, ghgh rhyme pattern. This poem is written in iambic pentameter, the oldest meter used in English verses.
◤ There are three themes that stand out in the poem:
  • Appearances can be deceptive―Richard Cory appears to be a polite person and yet remains humble in spite of his wealthy status. His grace and gentlemanly behavior makes him appear as one who is of noble descent. However, he is a lonely man but never once does he disclose it to anyone.
  • Perception―Here's a man who owns everything under the sun which deems him as a happy man with not a care in the world; however, his suicide proves otherwise.
  • Money cannot buy Joy―Richard Cory is a man whose riches could not buy him the peace and joy he so wanted, in turn, it only served to bring misery by way of isolation and envy.
Setting
◤ The poem does not specify the exact locale. The poet has used a fictional town named Tilbury. The pavements, though, suggest that Richard Cory could have been an Englishman.
◤ The poem was composed while the U.S. was still suffering from the economic depression of 1893. This became the background of the poem, focusing on the stark gap between the rich and the poor.
Characters
◤ The poet explains the main character as a man surrounded by wealth and glamor, but no one to turn to in his lonely moments. Despite his status and reputation that followed him, he was driven to kill himself. It still remains a mystery as to what could have led to his death. The poet portrays Cory's outward appearance and grandeur not revealing the anguished deliberations he went through.

Richard Cory is one of Robinson's best-known but most mysterious characters. No matter how many times one reads the final lines of the poem, it always draws attention to the unexpected death of Cory and its cause.

◤ The other characters in the poem are the people of the town who are in awe of Cory and his wealthy status. Their covetousness blinds them; hence, they are unaware of Cory's feelings. Their bitterness and jealousy leads them to curse their bread and butter.
The poem makes for an interesting read. Schools can assign students topics where they can write about their favorite personality and give their personal opinion as well. Poems similar to this one can be read out in class. The students could then perhaps elaborate the deep-set meaning that the poet conveys or wants to convey through his poem.