Text of the poem
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.
Through this story, Robinson introduces the classic theme of not judging people by their appearance; rather, there is more to a man than what appears on the surface. The idea that money cannot buy happiness is also suggested. The speakers are townspeople who admire Richard Cory. The surface and basic structure of the poem – description, followed by a shock ending, and obvious interpretations as "wealth and beauty do not mean one is happy" and "one does not know the heart of others", make it liable to be dismissed as tritely conventional. In other respects the poem is seen to have hidden depths and to reward careful interpretation, but not very lengthy analysis. In contrast to careful psychological description and analysis of internal states, popular in the 1890s, this poem gives only surfaces, no indication of Cory's internal state, which adds mystery, thwarts interpretation, and emphasizes the distance between the speaker (and reader) and protagonist. The reliability of the narrator, as one of the onlookers, is also questioned. The distance between the regal ("crown", "king"), indeed imperial Cory and townspeople is also commented on, as is the general hyperbole "fluttered pulses", "glittered when he walked". Many of Robinson's poems end...
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