By Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)
A Study Guide
Compiled by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2011..©
......."Richard Cory" is a short dramatic poem about a man whose outward appearance belies his inner turmoil. The tragedy in the poem reflects in its spirit the tragedies in Edwin Arlington Robinson's own life: Both of his brothers died young, his family suffered financial failures, and Robinson
himself endured hardship before his poetry gained recognition—thanks in part to praise from an influential reader of them, Theodore Roosevelt.
.......Although the poem mentions no specific locale, readers of Robinson’s poetry know that Richard Cory lives in fictional Tilbury Town, a community modeled on Robinson’s hometown of Gardiner, Maine. Gardiner is on the Kennebec River in southwestern Maine a few miles south of the state capital, Augusta. Robinson used Tilbury Town as the setting of many of his poems, including the highly popular Miniver Cheevy, although his poems seldom mention the town by name.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
.......The name Richard Cory appears to allude to England’s King Richard I (born, 1157; died, 1199). Here’s why: Richard I, a descendant of the French Normans who conquered England in 1066, earned the byname Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lion-Hearted) for his valiant fighting in the Crusades. Arlington chose Richard Cory as the name of the character in his poem for two reasons: (1) because Richard Cory has kingly characteristics and (2) because the name resembles the first two words of King Richard I’s French byname, Richard Coeur–hence, Richard Coeury, or Cory. That Richard Cory has the characteristics of a king is subtly hinted at in the poem. For example, in line 3, we learn that Cory is a “gentleman from sole to crown.” Here, crown not only refers to the top of his head but also to a crown worn by a king. In line 4, we learn that Cory is “imperially slim.” The word imperially means “having the qualities of a sovereign ruler.” We also discover that Richard Cory “glittered” (line 8), that he was “richer than a king” (line 9), and that he was “admirably schooled in every grace” (line 10). Finally, we have a hint that Richard Cory is being compared to an Englishman because of the use of the word pavement in line 2. Pavement is a British term for sidewalk.
.......As the poem indicates with the pronoun “we,” the people of the town are the poem's speakers. Obviously, they are working-class citizens who have little of material value and sometimes can’t afford meat to put on their tables (line Line 2, Stanza 4). They admire Richard Cory because of his possessions and his elegant demeanor. But they also envy him because he seems to have everything. They wish that they could take his place—until that fateful evening when Richard takes his own life.
.......In each stanza of "Richard Cory," the final syllable of the first line rhymes with the final syllable of the third, and the final syllable of the second line rhymes with the final syllable of the fourth. The first stanza illustrates the pattern.
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,Internal Rhyme
.......Robinson also used internal rhyme in "Richard Cory." Following are examples.
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown (line 1)
.......Most of the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter. Lines 1-3 demonstrate this pattern:
.......Three themes stand out in this poem:
1. Appearances are deceiving—or, put another way, you can’t tell a book by its cover.It turns out that beneath his veneer of wealth and respectability, Richard Cory is a deeply disturbed, very unhappy man. Even though he has everything in one sense, he has nothing in another. He is an emotional pauper.
.......The poem does not answer this question. But, of course, the reader may freely speculate. Perhaps, because he has everything, he has nothing to do and feels useless. Or could it be that he lacks the one thing that others in the town have: a caring family? Maybe he is in bad health or has suffered a financial
reversal. What is your view?
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures of speech, click here.)
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown (line 1)Anaphora
And he was always quietly arrayed,Metaphor
So on we worked, and waited for the lightStudy Questions and Essay Topics