Richard Cory

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"Richard Cory" is a narrative poem written by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It was first published in 1897, as part of The Children of the Night, having been completed in July of that year, and remains one of Robinson's most popular and anthologized poems.[1]

The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. Despite all this, he takes his own life.




Many of Robinson's poems have a similar dark pessimism and deal with "an American dream gone awry", which is attributed to his early difficulties in life.[2] "Richard Cory" was thought to refer to Edwin's brother Herman by Emma Löehen Shepherd, a woman who courted all three Robinson brothers and eventually married Herman, owing to his good looks and future financial prospects; Shepherd associated many of Edwin's poems with specific individuals.[3] In the event, Herman, despite early promise, suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children, dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901. In her annotated list of Edwin's poems, Shepherd wrote:[3]

"H.E.R. [Herman Edward Robinson]. Impersonation of his brilliant prospects and their abrupt end."


During the composition of the poem, the US economy was still suffering from the severe depression of the Panic of 1893, during which people often subsisted on day-old bread, alluded to in the poem's prominence of poverty and wealth, and foodstuffs.[1]

Text of the poem

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.

Critical interpretations

Through this story, Robinson introduces the classic theme of not judging people by their appearance; rather, there is more to a man than what appears on the surface. The idea that money cannot buy happiness is also suggested. The speakers are townspeople who admire Richard Cory.

The surface and basic structure of the poem – description, followed by a shock ending, and obvious interpretations as "wealth and beauty do not mean one is happy" and "one does not know the heart of others", make it liable to be dismissed as tritely conventional. In other respects the poem is seen to have hidden depths and to reward careful interpretation, but not very lengthy analysis. In contrast to careful psychological description and analysis of internal states, popular in the 1890s, this poem gives only surfaces, no indication of Cory's internal state, which adds mystery, thwarts interpretation, and emphasizes the distance between the speaker (and reader) and protagonist. The reliability of the narrator, as one of the onlookers, is also questioned. The distance between the regal ("crown", "king"), indeed imperial Cory and townspeople is also commented on, as is the general hyperbole "fluttered pulses", "glittered when he walked". Many of Robinson's poems end quietly; in this the shock ending of "Cory" is unusual.


As Music

The poem was adapted by the folk duo Simon & Garfunkel for their song "Richard Cory", which has also been performed by Them and Van Morrison. The song has been played live by Paul McCartney and Wings, Denny Laine singing "I wish that I could be John Denver." The Simon & Garfunkel version of the song's ending differs from the poem in that the speaker still wishes he "could be Richard Cory", even after Cory has killed himself. The Latter-day Saint folk trio "3Ds" performed a musical adaptation of the poem in their 1970s album Rhyme Rhythm and Reason.

The Punk band The Menzingers wrote a song entitled Richard Coury which was inspired by the poem. The difference in spelling from Cory to Coury is because the band has a personal friend whose last name is Coury.

The American composer John Duke wrote "Three Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson" which includes the full text of the poem Richard Cory.


A.R. Gurney wrote a play based on the poem, also titled "Richard Cory". The play, which is presented with a nonlinear timeline, suggests the reasons Cory killed himself, including family problems and changing views on humanity.

Carolyn Mullen wrote a short story entitled "Poetic Justice" which, via a surprise ending, turns out to be an "alternative history" version of "Richard Cory." Edwin Arlington Robinson appears as a character in the story, which is included in "The Rich and the Dead," a 2011 short-story anthology.

Kyle Licht wrote a short story adaption that may be found here,


  1. ^ a b William J. Scheick. "Richard Cory." Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition. Salem Press, 2007. 2006. 18 May 2011
  2. ^ PBS - I Hear America Singing
  3. ^ a b "Shepherd Family Residence", Edwin Arlington Robinson site

External links