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.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
The poem is about the American dream gone awry, in the post-Depression era , when many promising young men went Corey’s way. The poem is fairly simple at least to a post-modern reader who is used to much greater difficulty in comprehending a poet’s meandering thought and decoding his expression.Pretty neat and straightforward. But there is beauty in the way the poem unfolds from stanza one through the last stanza, the way the unexpected conclusion springs upon you in the last stanza. Let us confine ourselves to the speakers i.e. to the people who are narrating the story of Richard Corey.
First ,place the speakers at the ground level. They are people on the pavement.They are not only physically on the pavement but are there economically. The poem is about what they have seen of Richard Corey over a period of time.
Then think of the way they have looked at him. They are on ground level and their eyes go over his appearance from sole to crown. He is finely arrayed. Clean favored and imperially slim. He is rich not merely in terms of material wealth but in all graces ,richer than a king. He fluttered pulses when he talked and glittered when he walked.Making them wish they were in his place.
Now ,from wherever they are, they worked, waited for the light and went without the meat, cursed the bread. That is the level from which they viewed him. The economic situation never affected him.But while he went about his business as a lucky gentleman blessed with nature’s endowments and material riches, they suffered hard conditions, having to go through one of the worst depressions in the history of their country.
The surprise end “and Richard Corey, one calm summer night,went home and put a bullet through his head” gives you nasty shock.
Is that what was expected to happen? But the narrator does not seem to be fazed by the abruptness of Corey’s tragic end. The way they pulled off the last lines ,they did not appear to be caught by surprise. Why was that night such a calm summer night? Why do these things happen on a calm summer night?
The nasty end is not what is tragic.It is the unexpectedness of the last two lines , spoken in such a calm manner, that rattles you. The tragedy is not in the story of a depressing suicide but the manner in which the tragedy affects the narrators, the almost “unhuman” way in which they react to the death as against the “human” way in which he always talked to them.