I wrote a paper on Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Richard Cory” in eleventh grade, and after a student writes something that subject becomes, to them, the most important thing in the world. For years I thought of Robinson as one of the great American poets, even as I only really knew “Richard Cory”. In my mind, Robinson was as great as Frost and Whitman. Today, I am one of the few English teachers I know who have heard of Robinson, although my view of his relative place in American literature is a bit more rational. When visiting other schools, it warms my heart when I find him in an anthology of American literature as I think someone else might be inspired.
This poem tells a simple story, and has a kicker surprise ending. Bang. Students can theorize why he might of done the deed, which makes for a pretty straightforward analysis of the poem. If you want to mix it up a bit, find Simon and Garfunkles’ rewrite of “Richard Cory” and play it for the students. Does it work? Is the story the same? Comparison criticism can take them in some new directions.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
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,
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 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.