It is a common notion for people to believe other people tend to have better lives than their own. Regardless of the situation, people will compare the worst part of their own life to the best parts of other peoples’ lives, creating a wider disparity than what exists. Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory” narrates a scenario portraying the cliché notion that just because someone’s life appears ideal, does not mean it is. This idea is emphasized in almost every line of the poem and strengthened through subtle and obvious contrast, which is what stuck out most to me—how excessive the contrast is between the people and Richard Cory.
The first stanza introduces the character Richard Cory, and it immediately gives him an aura of grandeur. The first of many contrasting descriptions in this poem is between the “people on the pavement” and the poem’s subject being a “gentleman from sole to crown”. He is noble through and through without a single trace of anything less in him according to the description. Even the diction elevates his status. Using the word “crown” instead of “head” creates an image of royalty, widening the gap between him and the general population. The following line reinforces this by describing his slimness as imperial. However, in the third stanza, his status is elevated higher when he is deemed “richer than a king”. The narrator describes this man as ideal and having everything anyone could desire: a perfect physical form, proper manners, and money.
There is even the contrast of the acquisition of things. The diction used to describe Richard Cory implies his fortunate state as being effortless. As previously explained, he is compared to royalty, even better than royalty. There is no mention of having to earn or work for anything, everything about him just is. Contrariwise, it is specifically mentioned how the people had to work and they still lacked basic things, such as decent meals.
The poem is also characterized by polysyndeton. The repetition of “and” creates a sense of the endless favorable traits he possesses. The majority of the poem is essentially a list of how great he is; the only flaw presented is “he fluttered pulses when he said,/‘Good-morning’”. Again, there is a distinguishable shift at the beginning of the final stanza. It is not initiated with “And” like the previous two stanzas, instead it starts with “So”. This variance draws attention to the disparity between their lifestyles, and it signals a shift in the use of polysyndeton from emphasizing an abundance of fortune to an abundance of misfortune. This seems to create a dulling effect on the situation because the word is so overused at this point. It draws out the labors of the people, and changes Richard Cory’s suicide from being a dramatic incident to just another event on the list of misfortunes.
Of all the ways Robinson contrasts Richard Cory from the people, what I found most intriguing was how he is depicted as divine. There are three stanzas used to describe him, each of which provide three positive descriptors. The first stanza describes him as a “gentleman”, “clean flavored” and “imperially slim”. The second stanza tells how he is “quietly arrayed”, human when he talked”, and “he glittered when he walked”. Then, in the following stanza, he is described as “richer than a king”, and good enough to be envied. There is no mistake about him being described as god-like. Three typically symbolizes the trinity and religious perfection, yet it does not hold up in this instance as Richard Cory succumbs to suicide. Despite seeming perfect, he was still flawed and evidently must have been struggling more than the common folk. Interestingly, the last stanza describes the general people with four actions: they worked, waited, went without, and cursed. They are described as nothing but miserable, and yet they have the will to continue with life. By using four descriptors, a larger number than Richard’s three, it does seem to indirectly suggest how even though they had laborious lives, they still made more out of living than Richard Cory.
Despite how uninteresting the underlying idea of this narrative poem is, its presentation is engaging because of the polarity of the general population from Richard Cory. Each line emphasizes his perfection and effortless lifestyle, making him seem like a divine being in opposition to everyone else’s difficult lives. While he is lauded for doing nothing other than existing, the people work hard and receive nothing. Regardless of how things appear, nothing is as flawless as it seems.