Richard Cory is the main character in the eponymous poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It was first published in 1897. The text is as follows:
“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.”
*Some examples of the text say “in” rather than “through”
I like this poem because it really makes you think, yet manages to be so short (as in, Robinson has cut out all the crap). It might seem nice to be rich and attractive, but you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. As much as I like this poem, though, I can’t sit around thinking about it for too long because I start to go off the rails a little. I start thinking, “if only he had a friend. If only someone could have helped him!” Then I begin to feel guilty that I didn’t help him, until I finally snap out of it, realizing, “this guy isn’t real!”
This poem is also the basis for the Simon & Garfunkel song “Richard Cory,” which is totally epic. The song follows the basic “plot” of the poem, but expands on the details because the song is longer. One interesting thing is that after the line “Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head,” the chorus plays one last time. The chorus is sung by an anonymous narrator, who works in Cory’s factory and wishes he could be him. Therefore, after hearing about Cory’s suicide, we then hear one last chorus of “I wish that I could be Richard Cory.” Interesting. Are Simon and Garfunkel just following song conventions and playing the refrain one last time or are they trying to make a point. Would some people want to be Richard Cory, because he was rich and handsome, even knowing he was unhappy enough to commit suicide? Just how much is happiness worth? Just how much is being wealthy worth?
In case you have never heard this song (gasp!), here’s a You Tube link to a live version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euuCiSY0qYs If you watch it, please enjoy the awesomeness that is Art Garfunkel’s hair.