Edwin Arlington Robinson reported to a friend that Frank Avery had shot and killed himself with a shot gun. This was the inspiration for the poem “Richard Cory.” The narrator of the poem is a citizen of the town in which Cory lives. The poem is full of complexities and contrasts.
The poem has four quatrains. It follows a set rhyme scheme of ABAB in each stanza.
When Richard Cory is in town, the common people watch him. His manners denote him as a complete gentleman from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He was handsome and regally slender.
His style of dress was not over stated. When he talked to the people on the street, Cory did not sound condescending. Yet, his persona caused the ladies react with a quiver inside when he spoke to them or said: “Good morning.” As he walked through the town, he appeared to shimmer.
Cory was extremely wealthy—even richer than royalty. He was cultured and well educated. The citizenry of the town respected everything about Cory; so much so, that they envied him and wished that they could exchange places with him.
In fine, we thought that he was eveything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
Their lives go on with working and waiting for something to happen to change the drudgery. Sometimes, they did not have enough to eat: bread not meat. This much admired man on a normal evening in summer went into his house and put a gun to his head and killed himself.
The sad aspect of Richard Cory’s life is that he seems to be searching for something that the people do not give him or with their busy lives, do not see that he needs: friendship. He tries to be a part of their lives. He comes to town; he speaks to them on their level. Because of their excessive admiration for him, they do not allow him into their lives.
The narrator of the poem continually places Cory in a royal position.
- He is a gentleman from sole to crown.
- Clean favored, and imperially slim.
- And he was rich—yes, richer than a king---
Part of the lack of connection with Cory may have been his elevated status. Who would be friends with a member of the royalty of an aristocrat?
Obviously, Cory’s loneliness must have been overwhelming. For someone who appears to have had everything, in reality, he had nothing that made him happy. The reader does not know the actual reason for his suicide, but the lack of real relationships among his neighbors may have been part of his problem.
The poem leaves many questions unanswered. Although the poem is over one hundred years old, the same problems are in effect today. Isolation, loneliness, search for identity, internal misery—all lead to psychological problems and in extreme cases “a bullet in the head.” Because of his status and apparent flawed character, Richard Cory becomes a tragic poetic figure.