RichardCory: A poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson
EdwinArlington Robinson lived between 1869 and1935. He was born in a towncalled Maine to Edward Robinson and Mary Elizabeth Palmer. His fatherwas a civic leader and a timber merchant. After his birth, hisparents moved to Gardiner, a town that provided the model for aseries of poem he wrote in his life. When he was eleven, Robinsonbegan regular writing. In high school, he attended meetings of thepoetry society in his town. He was the youngest member in the poetrysociety (Joyner 1).
Robinsonwent to Harvard University between 1891 and 1893. The fortunes of hisfamily started declining in early 1890s, and his father died in 1892.This contributed to the family’s bankruptcy in the following sevenyears. The financial difficulties forced Robinson to leave Harvard.Later, in 1896, his mother succumbed to “black diphtheria” andhis brothers had to bury her themselves since nobody wanted to comeinto contact with the body. In these times, he wrote poems, whichwere published later in 1896. His friends paid the publishing cost.
Robinsonmet the love of his life, Emma Shepherd, in 1887, but he chose poetryover love. He let his brother marry her in 1890. He later moved toNew York, living on some money sent to him by his brother. Later in1901, the family’s fortune was finished. Robinson lived in poverty,occasionally helped by his friends and well-wishers. His earlierworks were ignored while some reviewers criticized them. This leftRobinson depressed, and he drifted away from poetry (Joyner 1).
Itwas in 1905 when things started looking up for Robinson he receivedhelp from President Theodore Roosevelt who read his works andrecommended him to work at a customhouse in New York. In 1916,Robinson was given financial security from an anonymous source to aidhis works. A book, ‘The man Against the Sky’ broadened hisreputation, and he started being noticed. He wrote the poems Merlinin 1917 and Tristram in 1927. He also appeared on the cover of NewYork Times in 1919 and received praises from other writers andreviewers. In 1921, he published a collection of his works under thetitle “Collected poems”. This collection won an award under the“Pulitzer Prize for poetry”. He got a second Pulitzer Prize in1924 for his work, “A Man Who Died Twice” (Joyner 1).
Helater became a regular writer with his works including Avon`s Harvest(1921) Roman Bartholow (1925) Dionysus in Doubt (1925) Cavender`sHouse (1929) Matthias at the Door (1931) a collection of shorterpoems, Nicodemus (1932) Talifer (1933) and Amaranth (1934) (Howe1). According to his critics, Robinson put much work and time inwriting his poems. It was while revising King Jasper, his last work,in a New York hospital that he died (Joyner 1).
Thepoem “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson is about theperfect life of the rich young man that ends tragically when theyoung man takes his life. The focus is mainly not on the suicide, buton the mystery behind it. The poet indicates that, in many cases, thepoor people admire and wish for the lives of the rich. They see thelives of the rich as perfect and with no problems, while in reality,the rich face hard situations inwardly, and this becomes evident whentragic actions, such as suicide in the poem, are manifested by therich (Anderson 1).
Thepoet uses the pronoun ‘We’ to indicate a gap between the poor andthe rich. The character in the poem, “We”, is an indication thatthere is the distance between the speaker(s) and Richard. ‘We’represents the poor who admire Richard’s wealthy situation and wishto be like him in terms of dressing, walking, talking, and his wholeappearance. This leads ‘We’ to work hard and sacrifice somelife’s pleasures in with the hope of reaching Richard’s status.
Thepoem shows contrast between the happy and admirable lives of the richagainst the desperate and discontented lives of the poor as seen onthe surface. However, the poet shows that what is seen on the surfaceis not the indication of the real situation. ‘We’ is ignorant andsees Richard’s outward projection of happiness and riches as anindication of an obviously happy life (Anderson 1).
Thefact that Richard puts a bullet into his head shatters the image of aperfect life. It also demoralizes the poor who had hope in attaininga similar status as Richard. Robinson, in this poem, shows us thatoutward appearances may not be the exact reflection of the inwardfeeling or situation (Anderson 1).
Thepoem in the first stanza starts with the mention of Richard Corygoing ‘downtown’ in line 1. This is an indication of class inwhich Richard belongs. ‘We the people on the pavement’, in line2, gives the indication of another set of people belonging todifferent social class. There is a clear indication of the two setsof people belonging to different social classes living in the samesociety (Anderson 1). In line three there is clear admiration for theway Richard carried himself around with the use of the words,‘gentleman from sole to crown’. The word ‘crown’ is also usedto show that Richard was royal born and of the ruling class. The useof the ‘imperially slim’ in line four further emphasizes theupright stature and the authoritarian appearance of Richard. Richardin this poem is a reflection of the rich people in society given theway he carries himself around and the way the people admire him (Howe1).
Inthe second stanza, the poet depicts Richard as ‘quietly arrayed’in line 1. This shows that he was humble and meticulous in everythinghe did. In line 2, the words ‘human when he talked’ show that hewas warm in his interactions with people. The female members of thissociety admired Richard. This is seen in the words ‘flutteredpulses’ in line 3. This indicates that women were attracted to himand wanted be around him. We can, therefore, say that Richard’squiet nature and his warm nature contributed to the fact that he wasadmired by people especially women (Howe 1).
Thethird stanza tells us of his riches and the admiration he commandedover the people from the lower social class. The words ‘richer thana king’ in the first line is a clear indication Richard’s vastwealth. The other people admired and wished to be in his position.This is seen in the words used in the fourth line of this stanza, ‘tomake us wish we were in his place’ (Howe 1).
Thefourth-stanza talks about the hopes the people had of achievingRichard’s status. The words ‘and waited for the light’ showthat the people were hopeful of being in the same position asRichard. They sacrificed a lot to achieve this as indicated by thewords ‘and went without meat’. However, this dream was shatteredwhen Richard ‘put a bullet through his head’ as the fourth lineof stanza four says (Anderson 1).
Joyner,Nancy Carol. "Edwin Arlington Robinson." AmericanPoets, 1880-1945:ThirdSeries.Ed. Peter Quartermain. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987. Dictionary ofLiterary Biography Vol. 54. LiteratureResource Center.Web. 11 July 2014.
Howe,Irving. "A Grave and Solitary Voice: An Appreciation of EdwinArlington Robinson." IrvingHowe: Selected Writings 1950-1990.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1990. 229-239. Rpt. inTwentieth-CenturyLiterary Criticism.Ed. Jennifer Baise and Linda Pavlovski. Vol. 101. Detroit: GaleGroup, 2001. LiteratureResource Center.Web. 11 July 2014.
Anderson,Wallace L. "The Young Robinson as Critic and Self-Critic."EdwinArlington Robinson Centenary Essays.Ed. Elsworth Barnard. University of Georgia Press, 1969. 68-87. Rpt.in Twentieth-CenturyLiterary Criticism.Ed. Jennifer Baise and Linda Pavlovski. Vol. 101. Detroit: GaleGroup, 2001. LiteratureResource Center.Web. 11 July 2014.