Edwin Arlington Robinson's career spanned the literary bridge between the very late 1800s and the early 1900s, with his winning three Pulitzer prizes in the 1920s. "Richard Cory" is an example of realism in modern American poetry, as is another of his most famous poems, "Miniver Cheevy." Some of Robinson's poetry in theme and content is associated with that of T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, two other modern American poets in the genre of realism.
Several of the major characteristics of realism can be identified in "Richard Cory." There is, for instance, a complete absence of sentimentality. Cory's suicide is not mourned or memorialized. No good comes of it. It merely occurs and is reported as fact. The poor who envied Richard Cory are not romanticized or redeemed by any special strengths as a result of their difficult circumstances: They were just poor as they "went without the meat, and cursed the bread." Finally, the tremendous irony of Cory's suicide, as well as its manner, is reflective of realism. The man who "glittered when he walked" did not "take his own life" or "cease to be." He simply "put a bullet through his head."
There are several different ways to talk about the genre of "Richard Cory," depending on which aspects of the poem you wish to emphasize.
First, it is a "lyric" rather than "epic" poem. This distinction is an ancient one. Epics were typically defined as long heroic narratives, and lyric poetry was a shorter and more personal genre, dealing with individual experiences rather than the great events of history.
Second, it can be described as a "narrative" poem, meaning that it tells a story rather than simply expressing an emotion or describing something.
Although it is not a traditional oral ballad, its structure—in particular the use of open quatrains, simple narrative, and everyday experience—owes something to the ballad genre.
Finally, it is a "realistic" rather than romantic poem, talking about the everyday life in a small town.