-BY EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
“Richard Cory,” which first appeared in the Children of the Night and remains one of Robinson’s most popular poems, recalls the economic depression of 1893. At that time, people could not afford meat and had a diet mainly of bread, often day-old bread selling for less than freshly baked goods. This hard-times experience made the townspeople even more aware of Richard’s difference from them, so much so that they treated him as royalty. Although the people were surprised that Richard came to town dressed “quietly” and that he was “always human when he talked” (that is, he did not act superior), they nonetheless distanced themselves from him. This distance is suggested by the narrator’s words “crown,” “imperially,” “grace,” “fluttered pulses,” and “glittered.” The townspeople never stopped to consider why Richard dressed and spoke the way he did, why he came to town when everyone else was there, or even why he tried to make contact with them by saying “good morning.”
Richard was wealthy, but (as his name hints) he was not rich at the life-core of himself. Despite his efforts at communal connection, Richard’s wealth isolated him from others. He was alone. If the townspeople wished they were in his place because of his wealth, he in turn wished he were one of them because they were rich in one another’s company. The townspeople failed to appreciate the value of their mutual support of one another, their nurturing communal togetherness. So one hot, breezeless summer night (before the availability of electric fans or air conditioners), Richard lay awake, unable to sleep or to stop painful thoughts. Depressingly lonely, he ended his friendless life. The poem’s reader is supposed to understand what the townspeople did not understand about Richard’s suicide: that there was a price, in a human rather than in a monetary sense, that he paid for being perceived to be “richer than a king.”
SUMMARY AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS
The speaker of this poem belongs to the lower class. When Richard Cory went to the city, the speaker and his friends would look at him. Richard Cory looked a perfect gentleman. He seemed to be enjoying all the advantages. He was well dressed. He talked very politely. But when he said good morning, he would be over-excited. The jewellery he wore would shine brightly. He was richer than a king. He was trained in every kind of polite behavior. The speaker was jealous of him and wished that he had been Richard Cory. The working class people would work hard but they could afford only bread, not meat. They heard that one night Richard Cory went home and shot himself dead. 'Richard Cory' is a character sketch of a legendary character who lived in the poet’s native town of Gardiner, Maine. This modern American poem quietly exposes the irony of a rich gentleman’s life. Cory was the only son of an extremely rich merchant who ‘owned’ almost half the place. He was everyone’s ideal and dream. But he killed himself suddenly, without apparent reason. The incident has become the subject matter of other poets also, but Robinson’s viewpoint and meaning is unique. Irony is the main feature in the poem. Richard Cory is basically an ironic poem. It deals with the irony that rich people are not happy with their life, and the poor think that wealth is the guarantee of happiness. There is also another more general irony about human beings. The speaker also says that they did not eat the bread they could get and they went without the meant that they could not get. They cursed the bread they could get! This is an irony; those who get something like something else, something better, and those who do not get it are dreaming for it, somewhere. The poem Richard Cory by Robinson has also been described as a modern ballad by some critics. It is in simple four line stanzas and a rhyming scheme as abab. It is tragic and has a moral. It is also dramatic in a...
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