"Richard Cory" is a narrative poem written by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It was first published in 1897, as part of The Children of the Night, having been completed in July of that year, and remains one of Robinson's most popular and anthologized poems.
The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. Despite all this, he takes his own life.
Many of Robinson's poems have a similar dark pessimism and deal with "an American dream gone away", which is attributed to his early difficulties in life. "Richard Cory" was thought by Emma Löehen Shepherd (a woman who courted all three Robinson brothers) to refer to Edwin's brother Herman (whom Shepherd eventually married) owing to his good looks and future financial prospects; Shepherd associated many of Edwin's poems with specific individuals. In the event, Herman - despite early promise - suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children, dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901. In her annotated list of Edwin's poems, Shepherd wrote:
- "H.E.R. [Herman Edward Robinson]. Impersonation of his brilliant prospects and their abrupt end."
During the composition of the poem, the US economy was still suffering from the severe depression of the Panic of 1893, during which people often subsisted on day-old bread, alluded to in the poem's prominence of poverty and wealth, and foodstuffs.
Text of the poem
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
The poem was adapted by the folk duo Simon & Garfunkel for their song "Richard Cory", which has also been performed by Them, Van Morrison, and The Chicago Loop. The song has been played live by Paul McCartney & Wings, Denny Laine singing "I wish that I could be John Denver." or "I wish that I could be Richard Cory", or In live in Venice "I wish that I could be Casanova.". The Simon & Garfunkel version of the song's ending differs from the poem in that the speaker still wishes he "could be Richard Cory", even after Cory has killed himself. The Latter-day Saint folk trio "3Ds" performed a musical adaptation of the poem in their 1970s album Rhyme Rhythm and Reason.
The Punk band The Menzingers wrote a song entitled "Richard Coury" which was inspired by the poem. The difference in spelling from Cory to Coury is because the band has a personal friend whose last name is Coury.
The American composer John Duke wrote Three Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson which includes the full text of the poem Richard Cory.
A.R. Gurney wrote a play based on the poem, also titled Richard Cory. The play, which is presented with a nonlinear timeline, suggests the reasons Cory killed himself, including family problems and changing views on humanity.
Carolyn Mullen wrote a short story entitled "Poetic Justice" which, via a surprise ending, turns out to be an "alternative history" version of "Richard Cory". Edwin Arlington Robinson appears as a character in the story, which is included in The Rich and the Dead, a 2011 short-story anthology.
...And he was rich, a man of style and grace,
And married to a beautiful woman named June.
And yet none of us wished that we were in his place.
We knew June and she was a bitch.
And one calm summer night under a beautiful moon,
Richard Cory put a bullet through his head.
No big surprise if you knew June.
- William J. Scheick. "Richard Cory." Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition. Salem Press, 2007. eNotes.com. 2006. 18 May 2011
- PBS - I Hear America Singing
- "Shepherd Family Residence", Edwin Arlington Robinson site
- Garrison Keillor (1993) The Book of Guys. London: Faber & Faber.
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- On "Richard Cory", Critiques of the poem by various authors
- Variations on the Richard Cory story by A.R. Gurney, and Ed Dixon