What's the poem's tone up until the last line?"Richard Cory" by Edward Arlington Robinson

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Edward Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory," the tone of the poem is both admiring in the first and second stanzas:  The speaker describes how perfect Richard Cory seems as he is a "gentleman" who is "Clean favored and imperially slim."  Yet, he was "human"--not pretentious--when he talked.

In the third stanza, the admiring tone continues, but it has an edge of envy:

In fine we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

Even the first two lines of the fourth stanza indicate this envy, an envy which would naturally come as the poem recalls the 1893 economic depression when many a person suffered from malnutrition and want:

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

Then, the poem's tone changes to one of impersonal reporting followed in the last line with a rather bemused shock:

And, Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

This impersonal tone and rather distant admiring and envy do not prepare the reader for the final line, which is, indeed, shocking.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In echoing the previous thoughts, there is a tone that praises and attaches an almost reverential tone to the description of Richard Cory.  The language employed demonstrates this.  Notice the "crown" in line 3 and in lines 4 the description of him being "clean favored, and imperially slim."  This tone through language continues throughout the poem.  The fact that Cory is wealthy creates the perception that he, in a way, is better than everyone else.  In this tone, rich or wealthy translates to superior, not merely different.  The poem's tone creates this aura, especially in the last stanza where the speaker indicates the struggle in daily existence for those who are not wealthy.  Of course, the last line changes all of this and helps to undermine the tone.  While the perception of Richard Cory might have been rooted in a belief of superiority, this is not necessarily the case as the last line raises issue that the perception of individuals could be vastly different than their reality.