"Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson tells a man's life story in sixteen lines. The narrator is a citizen of the town that the protagonist or Richard Cory lives.
The narrator's point of view is limited because he is only able to observe the outward look of the main character. He does not appear to know him personally. Therefore, he knows nothing of the man's mind or thoughts.
Following a pattern, the poem has four stanzas which use a set rhyme scheme: ABAB in every quatrain. Using this minimal amount of lines to tell the story, demands carefully chosen words. The vocabulary choice is simple, yet the words interestingly describe the main character.
The emphasis on the superiority of the Cory is well portrayed by the ending words of the first two stanzas: crown, slim, arrayed, talked and walked. It is the descriptive words that come before that add the flavor to the poem.
The primary metaphor in the poem is the comparison of Cory to a king:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
From the top of his head to the sole of his foot, he resembles what the narrator thinks a king might appear.
The poem is ironic from beginning to end. Here is a man supremely admired by everyone in this town. He seems to have everything, and in the end, kills himself. That is irony.
The problem is that no one takes the time to get to know the man. He comes to town, well-dressed and almost blindingly handsome. The women get shaky knees when he doffs his hat and speaks to them.
An odd comparison is made between the first two stanzas views of Cory. Initially he is described as looking like a king, well-dressed and handsome. Cory comes downtown to mingle with the other people. One wonders if they accepted his invitation for conversation.
In the second stanza, the poet describes him as quietly dressed and human, especially when he talked to the other citizens. However, did they engage with him? Was he so alone and misunderstood that he took his own life? Robinson leaves the reader to wonder about the lack of human connection that Cory wanted but did not receive from his neighbors.
It appears that their lives included envy and little involvement in the life of Cory. But as the poet states, the other people were busy with their own problems: hoping for something better, working hard, barely eating, and cursing their own predicaments.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread:
What does this man that everyone jealously admires do? He kills himself. The poet, with a clear understanding of life, shows the reader only what the reader would learn if this were reality. No one knows what was in the mind of Richard Cory.