The Poem Richard Cory: Analysis, Theme & Meaning

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  • 0:04 Edwin Arlington Robinson
  • 0:31 Synopsis
  • 1:21 Analysis
  • 2:31 Themes
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we'll explore Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem ''Richard Cory'' and analyze the themes and deeper meaning found beneath the surface of this short poem.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) was a major 20th-century American poet and three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Beginning with his first collection, The Torrent and The Night Before, Robinson established himself as a poet deeply rooted in tradition, exploring themes related to artistic pursuit, the certainty of change, individual failures, and materialism, as evidenced in his short poem ''Richard Cory.''

Synopsis

The subject of the poem is the title character, Richard Cory. The poem's narrator notes how the character moves through town while the 'people on the pavement' watch him. The narrator or townspeople notice the admirable ways Cory dresses (''a gentleman from sole to crown'' / and ''clean favored''); how he talks to people (''human when he talked''); how makes people feel (''fluttered pulses when he said 'good morning' ''); and even seems to exist (''admirably schooled in every grace'').

The townspeople even long to be Richard Cory as conveyed through lines ''we thought that he was everything / To make us wish that we were in his place.'' But, when the glorified Richard Cory shoots himself in the head in the last two lines of the poem, would those same townspeople be willing to take his place?

Analysis

The form the poet uses in ''Richard Cory'' opens the door to exploring the themes in this piece. The poem uses four-line stanzas with a consistent end rhyme scheme where every other line rhymes (ABAB CDCD…). The meter consists of a specific pattern called iambic pentameter, made popular by William Shakespeare. This meter consists of a foot with two syllables, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. There are five of these feet per line (penta = five), and this downbeat and upbeat pattern provides the poem with a rolling cadence. This approach lulls the reader into complacency which is ultimately disrupted by the gunshot in the last lines of the poem.

This shock ending creates a juxtaposition, whereby two things placed together with opposite effect, between the beginning and the end of this poem. Although initially described as being admirable in every way, Richard Cory's suicide suggests that there's a deeper, more conflicted side of the title character leaving the reader to question who he really was and what was going on inside his head that encouraged him to take his own life.

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