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In his justly famous poem “Richard Cory,” Edwin Arlington Robinson proves himself a master of effective phrasing – even in the use of such apparently simple techniques as repetition and such apparently simple words as “and.”
The lines that begin with the word “And” are grouped together in pairs:
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked . . . (5-6)
. . . . . .
And he was rich--yes, richer than a king--
And admirably schooled in every grace . . . (9-10)
. . . . . .
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night . . . (14-15)
Lines 5-6 use repetition more than simply in the repeated uses of “And,” and the whole effect of such lines is to imply that Cory’s life was utterly consistent and predictable. Similarly, the effect of lines 9-10 is to suggest that Cory’s social advantages were utterly obvious and abundant. Nothing at all seems inconsistent or out of control in Cory’s life, and he is particularly blessed with the kind of money that most of the other townspeople seem to lack. Thus the speaker repeats the idea of that Cory was “rich” by immediately saying that he was “richer” than a king.
The next pairing of lines beginning with “And,” however, violates the patterns already established. The earlier pairings had been completely focused on Cory (as is most of the rest of the poem), but in line 14 the phrasing focuses instead on the disadvantaged townspeople. Line 15 returns the focus to Cory again, but it does so just before the next line announces Cory’s death by suicide. Most of the earlier uses of lines beginning with “And” had emphasized the predictability and advantages of Cory’s life, but the final line radically disrupts any sense of predictability and radically undermines any sense of Cory’s advantages.
Repetition, however, is also employed effectively in other parts of the poem. Thus, because of the use of “whenever,” line 1 suggests that Cory repeatedly “went down town,” just as he was repeatedly “looked at” by the other townspeople (2). Likewise, lines 7-8 imply that Cory “fluttered pulses” on more than simply one isolated occasion, just as he also repeatedly said “‘Good morning,’ and glittered when he walked.” Meanwhile, lines 13-14 imply that the other townspeople repeatedly
worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread.
Indeed, perhaps the only singular, unexpected, and unrepeated act mentioned in the entire poem is Cory’s abrupt suicide – a fact that makes his death seem all the more shocking and mysterious.
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