Cory" is a short dramatic poem about a man whose outward appearance belies
his inner turmoil. The tragedy in the poem reflects in
its spirit the tragedies in Edwin Arlington Robinson's own life: Both of
his brothers died young, his family suffered financial failures, and Robinson
himself endured hardship before his poetry gained recognition—thanks in
part to praise from an influential reader of them, Theodore Roosevelt.
published the poem himself in 1897 as part of a poetry collection called
Children of the Night. The poem is a favorite of students and teachers
because of the questions it poses about the the title character.
the poem mentions no specific locale, readers of Robinson’s poetry know
that Richard Cory lives in fictional Tilbury Town, a community modeled
on Robinson’s hometown of Gardiner, Maine. Gardiner is on the Kennebec
River in southwestern Maine a few miles south of the state capital, Augusta.
Robinson used Tilbury Town as the setting of many of his poems, including
the highly popular
although his poems seldom mention the town by name.
of the Poem
Whenever Richard Cory went
We people on the pavement1
looked at him;
He was a gentleman from
sole to crown,2 Clean favored, and imperially
And he was always quietly
arrayed,3 And he was always human4
when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses
when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered5
when he walked. .....8
And he was rich—yes, richer
than a king—
And admirably schooled in
we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we
were in his place................12
So on we worked, and waited
for the light,
And went without the meat,
and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm
Went home and put a bullet
through his head............16
Bottom of a shoe; also, soul
This word has a double meaning: (1) top of the head; (2) crown worn by
In the manner of a ruler, such as an emperor or king
arrayed: Dressed in fine but conservative attire.
Down to earth; not condescending.
Reflected light from his jewelry, shiny buttons, etc.
fine: In summary, in short.
better day, better life
name Richard Cory appears to allude to England’s King Richard I
(born, 1157; died, 1199). Here’s why: Richard I, a descendant of the French
Normans who conquered England in 1066, earned the byname Richard Coeur
de Lion (Richard the Lion-Hearted) for his valiant fighting
in the Crusades. Arlington chose Richard Cory as the
name of the character in his poem for two reasons: (1) because Richard
Cory has kingly characteristics and (2) because the name resembles the
first two words of King Richard I’s French byname, Richard Coeur–hence,
Coeury, or Cory. That Richard Cory has the characteristics of
a king is subtly hinted at in the poem. For example, in line 3, we
learn that Cory is a “gentleman from sole to crown.” Here, crown not only
refers to the top of his head but also to a crown worn by a king. In line
4, we learn that Cory is “imperially slim.” The word imperially means “having
the qualities of a sovereign ruler.” We also discover that Richard Cory
“glittered” (line 8), that he was “richer than a king” (line 9), and that
he was “admirably schooled in every grace” (line 10). Finally, we have
a hint that Richard Cory is being compared to an Englishman because of
the use of the word pavement in line 2. Pavement is a British
term for sidewalk.
the poem indicates with the pronoun “we,” the people of the town are the
poem's speakers. Obviously, they are working-class citizens who have little
of material value and sometimes can’t afford meat to put on their tables
(line Line 2, Stanza 4). They admire Richard Cory because of his possessions
and his elegant demeanor. But they also envy him because he seems to have
everything. They wish that they could take his place—until that fateful
evening when Richard takes his own life.
each stanza of "Richard Cory," the final syllable of the first line rhymes
with the final syllable of the third, and the final syllable of the second
line rhymes with the final syllable of the fourth. The first stanza illustrates
Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement
looked at him;
He was a gentleman from
sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially
also used internal rhyme in "Richard Cory." Following are examples.
Richard Cory went downtown
that we were in
place (line 12)
home and put a bullet
through his head (line 16)
of the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter.
Lines 1-3 demonstrate this pattern:
1. Appearances are
deceiving—or, put another way, you can’t tell a book by its cover.
2. Money can’t buy happiness.
3. You can’t judge people
by what they have, but only by what they are.
It turns out that beneath his
veneer of wealth and respectability, Richard Cory is a deeply disturbed,
very unhappy man. Even though he has everything in one sense, he has nothing
in another. He is an emotional pauper.
Does Richard Cory Kill Himself?
poem does not answer this question. But, of course, the reader may freely
speculate. Perhaps, because he has everything, he has nothing to do and
feels useless. Or could it be that he lacks the one thing that others in
the town have: a caring family? Maybe he is in bad health or has suffered
a financial reversal. What is your view?
are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures
of speech, click here.)
Richard Cory went downtown (line 1)
on the pavement (line 2)
that we were
in his place (line 12)
he was always quietly arrayed,
he was always human when he talked (lines 5-6)
So on we worked,
and waited for the light
Comparison of light to
improved life or better times
Questions and Essay Topics
Why does Richard Cory kill himself?
The poem does not answer this question. But of course the reader may freely
speculate on it. Perhaps, because he has everything, he has nothing to
do and feels useless. Or it could be that he lacks the one thing that others
in the town have: a caring family? Maybe he is in bad health or has suffered
a financial reversal. What is your opinion?
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts Richard Cory with Miniver Cheevy, the subject of another
Robinson poem. To access the "Miniver Cheevy" study guide, click
It has been speculated that
Robinson modeled Richard Cory after his brother, Herman. Read a short biography
of Robinson, then tell your class whether you believe Herman was in fact
the model for the title character. Explain your answer.