For most of “Richard Cory” the tone is one of admiration and respect. The eponymous gentleman is presented to us as someone that everyone in town instinctively looks up to. A handsome, well-dressed man, he is the very epitome of class and sophistication as he walks along the street, glittering as he goes.
The tone of admiration continues into the second stanza, becoming ever more breathless. Here we're told that pulses flutter when he says, “Good morning.” It is at this stage of the poem that the tone becomes a touch envious, a tone that's reinforced in the following stanza when we're informed that Richard Cory is “richer than a king.” In sum, he is everything “to make us wish that we were in his place.”
One can only imagine, then, the shock the reader of “Richard Cory” must feel when the tone of the poem abruptly changes in the last two lines to one of irony. Despite being rich, handsome, debonair, and popular with everyone in town, Richard Cory goes home one calm summer night and puts a bullet through his head.
The contrast in tone with the rest of the poem could not be greater. And though somewhat jarring, the sudden change of tone is appropriate in his particular case. Here was a man who seemed to have it all but, in actual fact, was involved in a struggle with demons that he was sadly unable to win.