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Richard Cory -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

Guest poem submitted by Siddarth Kalasapur:
(Poem #1317) Richard Cory
 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.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
Here's a poem that I first read back in 1994, and it has been one of my
favorites since. Isn't there a Simon & Garfunkel song titled "Richard
Cory"? [Yes; see notes -t.] E. A. Robinson is not among my favorite
poets (e e cummings and Kahlil Gibran are). This poem however, always
reminds me of a friend who, in 1994 who actually put a bullet thruugh
his head - and we were left to speculate the reason, for it seemed like
he had everything. He was indeed quietly arrayed and human, rich and
graceful, well-liked and well-schooled. To date we don't know the reason
my friend did what he did - one calm summer night - and this poem will
serve as a constant reminder that things aren't always what they appear
to be.

-Siddarth.

[Notes]

"Richard Cory" is from Robinson's collection "The Children Of The
Night". The poem was written in 1897, after Robinson read a newspaper
clipping of one Frank Avery, who "blew his bowels out with a shotgun".

Here's Paul Simon's version of the story, from the "Sounds of Silence"
album, 1966:

 "Richard Cory"

 They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
 With political connections to spread his wealth around.
 Born into society, a banker's only child,
 He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.

    But I work in his factory
    And I curse the life I'm living
    And I curse my poverty
    And I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be
    Richard Cory.

 The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
 Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
 And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
 Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he's got.

    But I work in his factory
    And I curse the life I'm living
    And I curse my poverty
    And I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be
    Richard Cory.

 He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
 And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
 So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
 "Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head."

    But I work in his factory
    And I curse the life I'm living
    And I curse my poverty
    And I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be,
    Oh, I wish that I could be
    Richard Cory.

        -- Paul Simon

Spencer Leigh, in "Paul Simon - Now and Then" (1973) comments:

"Simon also retains this surprise but in neither version do we receive
any explanation as to why Richard Cory should have shot himself.
Robinson dwells on his material possessions and Simon updates this to
include orgies and yachts. Simon may well have added a subtlety to
Robinson's poem by repeating the chorus after Richard Cory has shot
himself, thus implying that the workers also envy Cory's courage in
being able to do away with himself.

It is easy to see why E.A. Robinson's poetry appealed to Paul Simon.
They both understood this feeling of being lonely in a crowd. Indeed a
university thesis in years to come may well show the parallels between
the two writers and songs like 'A Most Peculiar Man' and 'I Am A Rock'
certainly mark Simon out as a latter-day Robinson."

        -- [broken link] http://www.ckk.chalmers.se/guitar/richard.cory.html

41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

jenteb_pop3.zonnet.nl said...

I can recommand you to listen to the Van Morrison (accompagnied
by Them)of Richard Cory; recorded in the late sixties.
My all time favorite!
Sincerely yours,
Bart van Oijen -Netherlands.

bart van oijen / jente bagchus

Acynta said...

For some reason, Richard Cory hass always seemed to me the elegant
double of one of Robinson's other creations, "Miniver Cheevy, born too
late". To have what you don't want is a particular tragedy, and
particularly gruesome. Robinson treats Cory with a kind of respect;
Cheevy is an outright object of scorn. Nevertheless, their emptiness
seems alike, and their refusal/inability to engage with their own place
and time.

carlynn

woodworxx1 said...

Pardon my intrusion on this conversation...

In regards to the comparison of the song "richard Corey" to the poem "Richard Corey", I must interject with a little less enthusiasm.

The song, good or bad, does not capture the spirit of the poem. In fact, it is so OFF, it drives me mad when the subject is brought up.

I am a native of Gardiner, Maine and I drive by the Edwin Arlington Robinson house regularly. Not much has changed in this town in the decades that have passed. I understand exactly why Richard Corey did himself in inspite of his material wealth. It is a reflection of how far removed the outward appearance of an upstanding individual of a small New England town must be from the truly isolated agony of their soul. EAR reveals the contradiction in an understated fashion that is common to the New England spirit. The reason is there and clear... you just have to respect that, out of respect for the subject and consideration for the audience, the details remain unmentioned.

The song is insane. Gardiner, the town in the poem, is not, nor has it ever been, a factory town. In fact, the entire depiction of Gardiner is off. This was a mill town in its day. Now it is simply a bedroom community. The song also makes the narator the subject... in the poem, the narator was simply a mirror of the subject.

Thank you

railb said...

I just read a clip on a google search about Richard Corey. This email was attached. Sorry if it's found its way to someone else.
I just want to know if Richard Corey was a real person, and if so, what was going on?
Please email me if you know the answers.
Thanks,
Lora

willy said...

I heard a wonderful old Bluegrass song, middle of the night, driving through Georgia.
Certainly an old version of 'Richard Cory'.. much like Simon's.

Tina said...

the society needs to stop wanting to be like everyone else and be satisfied with what they have and obvioulsy the material wealth is not the key to happiness. People thought Richard Cory is so lucky and wants to be just like him but the problem is we dont know what goes on behind doors.

polic

Greg Noonan said...

Thanks

looked up Richard Cory looking for an answer:

Why did he do it?

"To have what you don't want is a particular tragedy..."

Eloquently expressed and succinctly said.

Couldn't figure that out for myself, so thanks.

enno said...

The recently released Heptones cd Night Food sports a reggae-version of 'Richard Khoury', recorded in the seventies.

Robinson Anthony said...

Richard Cory, for me also, is one of my favorite poems. I never could
remember all the words but I never forgot the theme. I am 42 years old
now. I first read Richard Cory in High School. It never left my
sub-conscious and sometimes was the most prevalent thing on my mind.

I would like to think of myself as the kind of person Richard Cory was
on the outside although I'm sure some would disagree. On the other hand
I have been told that I could light up a room. It's even been said that
I had everything. Just this year on Father's day my sister asked "what
do you get the guy who has everything?" Trust me, I don't have
everything. In fact, I feel down sometimes maybe just like Richard
Cory. I'm not clinically depressed or anything. I guess I just get the
blues sometimes. When I get the blues I feel like Richard Cory. Like I
said, I may not be all that he was but I certainly can identify with a
man who appeared to have everything and yet something important is
missing. Not only is it missing but you don't want to live without it.
My "blues" never gets that deep but I do understand.

Whoever you are, thanks for listening. More importantly, thanks for
bringing back something that reminds me of my strength.

Regards,

Anthony Robinson

TCornel816 said...

I read those poems at the U of G.A. in 1968 . I always felt Miniver and
Richard were the same people . One miserable with , one miserable without.

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