Try reading "Richard Cory" aloud. Go ahead—we'll wait right here while you do.
The lack of variation in the meter and rhyme are mirrored in the comparative lack of sounds popping off in this poem. Sure, you get some mild alliteration in lines 2 ("people," "pavement"), 12 ("wish," "we were"), and 13 ("we worked," "waited"). And there's some assonance with the short U sounds of "fluttered pulses" (7).
Mostly, though, there's not too much to jump out and bend your ear. That unremarkable-ness, though, has a profound effect. It actually adds to the huge blow that hits us at the end of the poem: Richard Cory's suicide. Everything in the poem is very "la di da, la di da," and then BAM. We learn that Richard Cory kills himself. The contrast between how the poem sounds and what happens in the end really drives home the poem's final revelation.
The poem "Richard Cory" is all about a dude named—that's right, you guessed it—"Richard Cory." The poem describes his good looks, his money, and ultimately his suicide. Without Richard Cory, "Richard Cory" would be, well, pretty much two lines about the townspeople.
Given all this, the title's pretty much a no-brainer. Not only does it announce the subject of the poem to come, but it also sets a focal point for us readers, just like how R.C. is the focus of all the down-towners in the poem who look up to him with envy and admiration.
"Richard Cory" takes place "down town." Mr. Cory himself is not from there; it's a place that he visits. The folks who do live in this town call themselves the "people on the pavement." Compared to wherever R.C. comes from, this town is pretty humble—people work long hours and they don't have meat to eat. Richard Cory, and his riches, clearly stand out from among the regular ol' townsfolk. The setting, then, is another way for this poem to highlight the vast gulf between the speaker and Mr. C., heightening the shocking effect of his suicide at the poem's end.
The speaker of "Richard Cory" is a collective we. The poem describes them as "we people on the pavement." These people live "down town," and they all admire one Mr. Richard Cory, who visits from time to time.
There are two ways that we can interpret this "we." Either the "we" is a sort of Greek chorus, a voice of many telling the tale of Richard Cory. Or, the "we" is the voice of an individual, speaking not only for himself, but for his fellow townspeople as well.
Whichever interpretation you choose, one thing's for sure: there's an immense distance between the people on the pavement and Mr. Cory. He's a solitary dude among a populous "we." More than that, he's separated from the speaker by his wealth, his fashion, his manners, and (it seems) his good looks. He's a model in all of those things, someone who is the object of the speaker's admiration. While the speaker is going without meat, R.C. is setting hearts a-flutter just by saying hi.
That makes his death at the end all the more jarring. Should the speaker really have envied Richard Cory all along? As readers, we're left with the same realization as the speaker at the end of the poem: appearances can be very deceiving.
"Richard Cory" is about as straightforward as poems get. Sure, the poem uses an occasional fancy phrase (such as "imperially slim") that may send you running to the dictionary, but all in all, this poem is smooth sailing for readers.
Edwin Arlington Robinson was not a happy dude. (Check out what we've got to say about him in our "In a Nutshell"). He had an unhappy childhood, an unhappy love life, and, even though his poems got the attention of Teddy Roosevelt, and he eventually won three Pulitzer Prizes, E.A.R. by all accounts was one unhappy and lonely guy.
Not surprisingly, he wrote a whole bunch of poems about sad, lonely dudes—like, really sad, really lonely dudes. If you like "Richard Cory," you might also want to check out poems like "Reuben Bright" and "Thomas Hood".
Talk about your poetic downers. We bet that these three rays of sunshine could all get together with our pal J. Alfred Prufrock and have a grand ol' pity party.
Let's face it: the form of "Richard Cory" is pretty basic. The poem is made up of four-line stanzas, and each of those stanzas has an ABAB rhyme scheme. That means that the first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines (each letter represents that line's end rhyme). For example, in the first stanza, "town" and "crown" rhyme, as do "him" and "slim". These rhymes are actually super-regular; our pal Robinson never changes things up.
Also pretty regular is the meter of the poem. "Richard Cory" is written in our old friend iambic pentameter, which should be familiar to you if you've ever come across anything by Shakespeare or Alexander Pope. Here's the skinny on how iambic pentameter works:
An iamb is a metrical foot that consists of two syllables: one unstressed syllable, followed by one stressed syllable. So it sounds like this: daDUM. And "penta-" means five. So, iambic pentameter really just means a string of five iambs in a row. Line those babies up, and they sound like "daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM."
"Richard Cory" is super-committed to iambic pentameter. Just check out the first line: "Whenever Richard Cory went down town." Hear all those "daDUMs" in a row (well, five to be exact)? If you read the poem out loud, you'll hear those beats all the way through.
For a lot of poets, things start getting interesting when the poet plays around with the form—perhaps throwing in some slant rhymes, or varying up the meter. But Robinson was all about keeping things regular-style. Why, you might ask? Well, we think it's for dramatic effect. The poem just continues on its regular way for fourteen lines. We get lulled into complacency. We're just chillin', hearing all this great stuff about this great dude Richard Cory. And then:
BAM. The guy kills himself.
We did not see this coming. And a big reason we didn't anticipate the ending was the regularity of the rhyme scheme and meter. They really help create the absolute shock that we feel at the end of the poem.
The speaker of the poem uses lots of regal—or kingly—diction to describe our dude Richard Cory. Whether he's talking about R.C.'s build, his wealth, or his style, he consistently employs words that directly reference royalty. Don't take our word for it, though:
Anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines. Anaphora was popular with free verse poets like Walt Whitman. It's less popular with poets who write in regular forms and meters like Robinson. They've usually got enough repetition going on at the end of lines that they don't use it at the beginning of lines too. But Robinson is all about anaphora in "Richard Cory," which often makes us feel like we're reading a long list of R.C.'s great qualities. (Of course, this makes his suicide at the end of the poem all the more shocking.)
Believe us when we say that "Richard Cory" is not a sexy poem. Other than some "fluttering pulses," we've got nothing in this poem that makes us think of sex.
That being said, we're gonna give this guy a PG for its deathly content. This poem isn't for the youngest among us. Though we think that if you can handle the death of Bambi's mom, you can probably handle the death of Richard Cory.