Richard Cory by Edwin Robinson


Richard Cory by Edwin Robinson

The poetry of Robert Robinson is often mentioned as a strange combination of classical style with personal attitudes, attributable to modernism. And indeed, living between XIX and XX century Robinson managed to perceive trends of both literary periods, and his unique style continues to attract unflagging attention of readers. This paper aims to investigate Robinson’s poetry using one of his most famous poems ‘Richard Cory’ as an example. Being written in 1897 it tells a story about ‘a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim. ’.

This man is a sort of landmark in his township as an ideal state of human: he is rich, well-educated and always perfectly looking. This makes people think that that the gentleman ‘was everything’ and ‘wish that we were in his place’. The life of the people in the town is far from perfect, they just work, eat, walk and admire the strange gentleman who ascends over them. So the more surprising is the end of the poem when ‘Richard Cory, one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head. ’ At least several questions arise out of the poem.

What does the symbol of perfect gentleman mean? Why does he commit suicide? How is his figure related to the surrounding? What would the people of the town think of that what has happened? The story seems to have no lyrical hero and even a narrator. It is told from the third person, who never shows himself, existing somewhere in a crowd of people who ‘worked, and waited for the light’ and ‘cursed the bread’. So it may look like a description of an artwork or a masterpiece rather than a story of a person, told by an accidental man.

Those people in the town have some features of living creatures and the perfect gentleman is similar to a fragile Chinese vase. At first sight this may seem to be a story of a reach man with empty inner world, which he escapes to death. But deeper understanding may lead to a suggestion, that Robinson meant a conflict between the idea of perfect nobility going back to the medieval times and modernist world where there is no place for anything ideal.

And from this point of view Cory’s suicide looks like a manifesto of the “old world” which can not resist the “new world” and chooses to die but not to stay in the “new world” where it can never find a worthy place. Gentleman’s suicide is surprising for the people, but it is actually not so shocking, considering Robinson’s calm tone. They will continue leading their usual lifestyle and perhaps do not care very much that there is now less beauty in the world around them.

Robinson used a surprising ending to show the situation from the eyes of usual people. They actually see no reasons for the suicide, so it is surprising for them and for the readers. Robinson willingly avoids description of gentleman’s thoughts and feelings, which lead him to death. This remains a secret understandable, perhaps only to the gentleman and those people who are similar to him, but it is hidden for us, who are outside of their “old” world.

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