In "Richard Cory," the title character is admired by the townspeople. They envy him and wish to be him. The way Robinson establishes this main idea in the first three stanzas makes the ironic ending even more shocking to the reader.
The speaker describes Richard Cory in a positive manner from the start of the poem. The first stanza reads,
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim. (lines 1–4)
All of the townspeople look at Richard Cory when he walks around town. He is described as the quintessential "gentleman." The adjective "clean" and the adverb "imperially" add to the positive perspective of the speaker and townsfolk.
Next, in stanza two, the speaker tells us:
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked. (lines 5–8)
Richard seems unassuming and "human," so he is personable and not arrogant. However, when he speaks to someone, "he fluttered pulses"; the town is quite taken with him, almost like they are in love with Richard. The description of how Richard "glittered when he walked" also shows that the townspeople see Richard as special and better than they are.
That idea continues in stanza three, as the speaker relays,
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place. (lines 9–12)
More of Richard's positive qualities are discussed here. We now know he is "richer than a king" and graceful. The speaker says that "In fine," or in summary, "he was everything / To make us wish that we were in his place" (11–12). The implied main idea that we've seen to this point is now made explicit: the townspeople envy him and want to be him.
The poem takes a dark turn in the final stanza, though. The speaker writes,
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head. (13–16)
The townspeople are described as poor and "curs[ing]" their bad luck to be in such a worse position than Richard. However, on a "calm summer night," a setting that belies what will happen next, Richard "put a bullet through his head." Despite all appearances, Richard was apparently suicidal. This is ironic because all of the townsfolk think he leads the perfect life. They think they are much worse off than he is, but in fact, he must've been unhappy despite his seeming advantages. We do not hear what the townspeople think about Richard's suicide in this poem, so we can only guess. Do they feel as shocked as we, the readers, are? Do they appreciate their own lives more, even though they have less than Richard had? We can only speculate.