Mystery Suicide (Richard Cory)
The poem was itten by Edwin Arlington Robertson depicting a comparison of the life between the wealthy aristocrat that had everything that anyone would wish and that of the peasants “who worked, and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread” (Stanza 4). Though Robertson’s poem were interpreted in various settings that include the allusion of the poem to King Richards I of England (1157-1199) because of the author’s use of poetic devices such as choice of words, imagery, and figurative language, apparently, the poem depicts the sharp contrast of the economic life between the rich and the poor during the early part of the eighteen hundreds and how this peasants admired and envied the aristocrats’ fine manners and wealth.
Robertson’s choice of words such as: we, people on the pavement, crown, imperially slim, richer than a king, and schooled in every grace drew a picture of two social classes of people which was prevalent during his time. By using the third person ‘we’ Robertson was projecting that the narrator was one of those ‘people on the pavement’ or the ordinary town’s folks who both greatly admired and envied Cory. In the first line of the second stanza, however, Robertson beautifully points out how the ordinary people during his time regarded a rich and noble person yet with very kind character. He used figurative language in order to create the person that fits those people’s thoughts, in the character of Richard Cory. The rhythm although according to Dan Mulvey was “hidden” (p. 168) contributes to the poem’s apparent allusion to the thoughts of the ‘people on the pavement.’
As he was well aware of the social classes during the earlier time of the eighteen hundreds, Robertson uses terms such as “gentleman from sole to crown, imperially slim, he glittered when he walk, richer than a king, schooled in every grace” to emphasize how those people on the pavement regarded a rich and noble person yet with a kind character. Robertson was saying that to these people, this kind of person was more esteemed or regarded higher than they regarded their king. That they saw this kind of person more deserving to be king and that he is richer than a king as he would be than more willing to share his wealth to those in need than the king was.
The poem may not be referring to any particular monarch as the narrator’s use of imagery fitted to the kings’ presence seemed to obviously short. Kings does not usually go to town so that ordinary people could be accustomed of them. Furthermore, the royal party would always have a number of soldiers and entourage that ordinary people cannot even draw near to closely view the king. Thus, obviously, Robertson was not particularly referring to King Richards I because aside from the fact he was too distant, the feudal system of the early eighteen hundreds which gave the land owners control of much of the available lands imposed difficult economic burden on what he calls “people on the pavement”. More over this was the time when the enlightened individuals or the intellectuals were expressing their views on the current social realities through poetic writings.
The poem “Richard Cory” therefore was great depiction of how people peasants and ordinary people thought of themselves, about the economic impact on them of the prevailing economic system, about a kind but rich noble, and about their dreams of a better economic system and a good leader, during the early and middle eighteen hundreds. As Robertson abruptly ended the poem with Richard Cory committing a suicide, he was indicating the hopelessness of those people’s dream. Kelley Griffith describes it as “surprising, even shocking” (p. 358) and apparently “cheap.” However, given the argument above, it appear that the end of the poem was rather meaningful and symbolical.
Griffith, Kelley R. Writing Essays About Literature Canada: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
Mulvey, Dan Write on USA: Barron Educational Series, 2006.