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Need help with a 400 to 500 word personal response to Paul Simon's poem "Richard Cory."

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ssdude2004 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted August 23, 2010 at 12:43 AM via web

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Need help with a 400 to 500 word personal response to Paul Simon's poem "Richard Cory."

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted August 23, 2010 at 2:36 AM (Answer #1)

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There is a lot you can say about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory.” I’d encourage you to develop your own personal response, as your assignment calls for, but I’m also happy to give you a few points that might get you started.

The thing that strikes me (and probably many readers) is the final line, in which the man who we thought “was everything” ends up killing himself one night. One theme of the poem, you might say, is the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Everything looks great on the surface (“we,” including the speaker in the poem, all want to be like that man), but there’s much that we don’t see. A personal response could include a discussion of what we might take away from the poem (such as not assuming that everything is as it seems or having compassion for people even if they don’t seem to need it).

Talking about the meter and other structural elements in a personal response may be a little trickier. You can identify and discuss the structure of the poem first. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, or alternating rhymes, and poem is in iambic pentameter (at least I’m hearing 5 stresses per line) arranged in four quatrains (4-lined stanzas). The effect of this structure, for me, is that the poem comes very close to natural speech in the meter and line length. Iambic meter is pretty much the natural rhythm of English, and the lines are just long enough to read aloud, slowly, in a single breath. At the same time, however, the poem has a “sing-song” or jingle-like effect because of the rhyme scheme. I would expect the poem to be happy, for some reason; it’s not, of course. The final line works completely against my expectations.

Now it's your turn for the personal response. You may want to get even more personal than I have in your answer to this assignment. For example, you might talk about a meaningful experience that you've had in your own life in which you realized that the appearance didn't always match the reality.

EDIT: I got the title right but the author wrong! The lyrics in Paul Simon's song look like they're mostly iambic, too, but they generally have seven stresses per line.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 23, 2010 at 2:43 AM (Answer #2)

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I assume you refer to Edwin Robinson's poem that has been put to music and "editorialized" by Paul Simon.  I also assume that your question refers to your second sentence regarding the meter.

It appears that Robinson's original poem is written in iambic pentameter, meaning that each line has 10 syllables, with stress on every other syllable.

Iambic pentameter is what Shakespeare used in his 150+ sonnets. While Shakespeare plays a little (poetic license), jumping between 9 to 11 syllables per line, Robinson's work seems clearly to stick to 10 syllables per line.  However, as Simon "expands" his version, it seems he, too, increases the number of syllables per line.  I have charted two lines and there seem to be seven stressed syllables per line as opposed the more traditional five stressed syllables per line.

To take the analysis of the importance of meter in this poem to a deeper level, may I suggest that the lilting rhythm of the poem mimics the rhythm of daily life in this--or any--town.  The people trudge along each day to uninspiring jobs, always passing those with better lives--wishing for that better life; ironically, it appears that Cory has everything anyone could want.

It is not until the last line, when the author provides us with an epiphany, that we can better appreciate the poem's "gait."  We are lulled into a sense of the "everyday" by our narrator.  The last line, so unexpected, slams us into a wall we do not see coming.  This is very much the way life is: we traipse along, day to day, and then some tragic thing we see, hear about, read, or experience brings our lives to a grinding halt, even if only for a short time, while we try to process this terrible thing that has just confronted us.

This is what happens with the poem's last line.  That plodding sense we have abruptly stops the reader in his "tracks," as we perceive Cory's tragic fate, leaving the reader stunned--and this is the way of life.  As another song says, "We're all just one step from our knees."  There is no way to know if this use of the rhythm was intentional on Robinson or Simon's part, but art has a way of taking on a life of its own when it leaves its creator and interacts with the world.

I would submit that the meter adds another deeper dimension to the poem's theme.

 

Your first sentence, it would seem, refers to your assignment.  Should you have any further questions on the poem's content in completing that part, please post another question.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 23, 2010 at 3:13 AM (Answer #3)

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The song "Richard Cory" sung by Simon and Garfunkle is easily accessed online.  The tone of Paul Simon's lyrics are somewhat cynical in comparison to that of Robinson's poem.  The character of Cory seems rather dissolute as he has parties and even "orgies."  Also, his arrogance seems apparent as he "owns half of this ol' town" and he has

political connections to spread his wealth around....

He had everything a man could want:  power, grace, and style.

Because of this portrayal of Richard Cory, his giving to charity and his demeanor may seem artificial when contrasted to the "imperially slim" Cory of Arlington's poem who is "human when he walked" and "flutters pulses" as though people not only envy him, but admire him. 

You may wish to look at how the element of surprise is, perhaps, more pronounced in the end of one of the works.

 

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