What literary devices are used in the poem?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Richard Cory," a ballad by Edwin Arlington Robinson, tells the story of a rich man who committed suicide. It uses some literary devices that are common in short or long fiction, including first person point of view, foils, figurative language, and irony.

The narration of the story comes from "we," an unnamed individual who groups himself in with the poor people of the town where Richard Cory lives. The effect of first person narration is to give the reader a limited perspective. We can only see and know what the narrator sees and knows; we cannot get inside the head of Richard Cory. Thus the ending comes as a complete surprise.

A foil is a literary device that uses characters that contrast sharply with each other. The contrast makes the qualities of each character more prominent. In this case, the townspeople are foils for Richard Cory, and vice versa. The opulent wealth of Richard Cory, his clothing, his manners, and his looks--all these stand in contrast to the "regular" people in the town who live in poverty, do not dress well, don't have the best manners, and are not so handsome. Richard Cory seems to have not a care in the world, while the other townspeople toil endlessly and can only hope for "light" in the future. Richard Cory's wealth highlights the poverty of the other people, and the poverty of the others makes his wealth all the more obvious.

The author uses figurative language when he compares Richard Cory to a king, and he uses the word "light" to represent hope or better fortune in the future.

Irony means that situations turn out the opposite of what one might expect. A twist or surprise ending is ironic. In this poem, when Richard Cory kills himself with no apparent warning, it is ironic because he seemed to have everything a man could want. If anyone would have been expected to commit suicide, it would have been one of the poor residents of the town who "worked and waited for the light." The unexpected ending is what makes this poem so powerful and memorable. 


ddb2001 | Student

Edward Arlington Robinson’s celebrated poem Richard Cory uses literary devices to help communicate ideas and feelings which cannot be stated directly. As is the case with all works of art—songs, paintings, story—the overall effect created by the poem offers a greater picture than can be portrayed without artistic effect. In this case, this effect is created by the use of literary devices.

The principal literary devices used in Richard Cory are irony, metaphor, and the poetic devices of rhyme, meter, and assonance.

Metaphor is the use of an image to represent something else in order to provide a deeper description of it. A common use of metaphor is “We had to make it through a maze of regulations to complete the form.” There is no actual maze on the form, but the experience of completing the form might have been similar to the frustrations, the backtracking, and the concentration experienced going through a maze. In a simple sense, Richard Cory uses metaphor to create images of what the main character is like. The poem states “…and he glittered when he walked.” Of course he was not covered in glitter, but he had an effect on the townspeople he passed that was in some way similar to the effect glitter has on our eyes. He was finely dressed, he was special, and somehow different than they.

In a larger sense, the poem itself creates a metaphor for one aspect of the human experience. Richard is idolized by the viewers. He is wealthy, he is kind. And yet this man who appears to have everything they do not commit suicides. The picture this helps create serves as a metaphor for things like the difficulty and mystery of modern life and the things which actually bring us contentment.

Irony is central to the poem. In its basic sense, irony is defined as using words to mean something different than what they appear to mean, almost always with the reader’s understanding. However in the case of Richard Cory, the overall effect of the poem creates an ironic picture. Not only are the events ironic—the man who should be the happiest in town shoots himself in the head—but the way they are narrated is also ironic. The poems rhythm, repetition and rhyme seem better fitted to a lighter subject—they are almost like a children’s song. The shock this helps create when we learn Richard “Went home and put a bullet through his head” makes this news all the more stinging and powerful, and the irony of this effect contributes to the larger metaphor the poem creates.

Finally, Richard Cory makes use of many common poetic literary devices that make it musical and artistic, adding to its power and its larger effect. It rhymes, like a song. It uses meter to create a rhythm that makes its distinct—in this case, the common poetic meter of iambic pentameter, created by using ten syllables divided into five pairs in each line. It also makes use of anaphora for its musicality. Anaphora is the intentional repetition of the opening words of a sentence in a poem to create effect. In the case of Richard Cory, this can be seen in the use of “And” and “And we was” at the beginning of many of the lines.

Though terms like meter and anaphora may seem alien, you can encounter them and their artistic effect in many of the poetry of things like pop songs and nursery rhymes we hear every day.