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,
“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.
I first encountered this poem in yet another English anthology textbook. As a teenager, I responded to the “things aren’t always what they seem” aspect. As an adult, I still like that, and I also enjoy the first two lines of the last stanza, which succinctly encompass the passing of years in the workaday world.
Memorizing this wasn’t too hard, the difficult part was figuring out where to put the inflections when reciting it. The first line of the third stanza in particular caused me great pains. Delivering that line without sounding overly theatrical took a lot of experimentation. So this month, I discover that this project doesn’t just involve me putting words in my head in a certain order, but also figuring out the best way to get them out of my mouth.
Those of a certain age, or who spend the time Googling “Richard Cory” know that Simon and Garfunkel have a song by the same name. I had assumed, because Simon and Garfunkel are incredible nerds*, that the song was this poem set to music. In fact, I stayed away from the song because I didn’t want how they sang the song influence how I said the poem. Listening to the song just now, I learn that the song is actually quite different, though clearly inspired by, the poem. It is from the perspective of one of Richard Cory’s factory workers. You can have a listen yourself.
*Seriously, incredible nerds. I mean, they have a song titled, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.” How nerdy is that? Who writes a song to an architect except a tremendous nerd? And the chorus? “Architects may come and Architects may go/and never change your point of view/When I run dry/I stop awhile and think of you.” Nerd-y! There’s even a flute solo, which as Will Farrell pointed out in Anchorman, is perhaps the nerdiest instrument.
And even, “You Can Call Me Al” with Chevy Chase? Great song, great funny video, incredibly nerdy. I like Simon and Garfunkel, don’t get me wrong, but they are uber-nerds.