In the poem ‘Richard Cory’, Edwin Arlington Robinson depicts the theme of spiritual emptiness. The poet uses traditional form combined with lean modern language, a characteristic of American Literary Modernism. The poem is a simple and dramatic account of rich and famous Richard Cory who is adored and envied by the commoners. The poem artistically presents the picture of a perfect man, who is a rich and polite, “gentleman from sole to crown” (line 3). He was “always human when he talked” (line 6).
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He has the perfect resources for leading a happy life in times when the commoners were struggling to make ends meet. However Richard Cory ends his life in a rather dramatic and shocking manner when “one calm summer night” he “Went home and put a bullet through his head” (line 15-16). The final two lines of the poem candidly inform the reader of Cory’s sudden suicide, symbolizing his spiritual barrenness and discontent with life.
In the poem, Robinson paints an enviable and admirable picture of Richard Cory as a fine gentleman who was “richer than a king” (line 9), but commits suicide. The poet exhibits a “renewed sense of responsibility for fellow human beings” through the poignant theme prevailing over the poem (Perkins & Perkins 130).
By juxtaposing two strikingly different elements in the poem, economic social success and spiritual vacuum, Robinson leaves the reader with a crucial thought; do social success and wealth connote real happiness? Cory was extremely rich and had all the reasons to be happy, but chose to die by putting a bullet through his head, exposing his misery and spiritual hollowness.
Through his modern poetry, Robinson demonstrates the “determination to scatter conventional taboos” (Perkins & Perkins 130). Robinson clearly flits into the genre of American Literary Modernism because the poem is “a renaissance that targeted the fundamental institutions and cultural assumptions of society” (Perkins & Perkins 130).
Robinson’s simple yet alluring poetic style makes the poem interesting to read and difficult to forget. What appeals to me most is the juxtaposition of a straightforward classical style with a strong personal and modern intriguing subject. The poem is a calm and lucid account of Richard Cory, who is a rich and happy gentleman by society standards. He has immense monetary possessions which will make him worthy of envy.
The simple account of Cory’s flamboyant life is contrasted with his shocking end. Without making the poem too dramatic in content, the poet sends out a clear message – worldly success is not a barometer for happiness. Worldly riches may make life comfortable but fail to bring peace and harmony. The poem is an example of a perfect rhetoric, simple and eloquent, alongside an honest theme projecting brutal reality.
In the song, Paul Simon, seems to be intrigued by the richness, flamboyance and social success of Richard Cory. Simon has made some additions to the original poem. He has added lines to show Cory’s political connections and yacht parties to the song. He has also adds that Cory owns “one half of this whole town”, as an exaggeration of his social and financial status.
Simon has omitted the physical qualities of grace and good character from the song, originally present in the poem, “And he was always quietly arrayed, And he was always human when he talked” (line 4-5). Simon omitted and added lines to the poem to exaggerate it and make it more catchy and appealing to the listeners. Also, the song has been modified to reflect current times when success and richness are associated with politics and grandiosity.
Perkins, George, & Barbara, Perkins. The American Tradition in Literature, Volume II. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2007. Print.
Robinson, Edwin Arlington. “Richard Cory.” The American Tradition in Literature, Volume II. 12th ed. Eds. Perkins George and Barbara Perkins. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 137. Print.