Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" was published as part of the anthology The Children of the Night in 1897, during the economic depression following the Panic of 1893. It is one of Robinson's most famous and influential oems, and recounts the story of a man who, despite being wealthy, educated, and well-respected, kills himself by shooting himself in the head.
The narrative poem talks about a man who seems to have all of life's amenities: he had the looks, the wealth, status, and a good reputation. People look up on him and wished they could be like him. Yet this man is just putting a facade. One night, this highly regarded man ended his life by aiming a single bullet in his head.
By the end of the day, this poem teaches us that looks can be deceiving and that wealth and status does not guarantee happiness. It also teaches us that sometimes those that travel by fortune's road may carry the heaviest load. Literary terms such as connotation, denotation, metaphor, and repetition are found throughout the literary piece.
"Richard Cory" inspired Simon & Garfunkel's song of the same name, which was subsequently covered by famous artists such as Van Morrison and Paul McCartney and Wings. It also influenced numerous other musical compositions, including The Menzingers' "Richard Coury" and Britney Spears's "Lucky." A.R. Gurney's play of the same name was based on the poem, and humorist Garrison Keillor wrote a variation of the poem included in The Book of Guys.
Robinson had an unhappy childhood in Maine and grew up hated his given name, which was randomly drawn from a hat when he was six months old. His eldest brother, a doctor, became addicted to laudanum after a period of self-medication. The woman he loved married his other elder brother, Herman, who later "suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children." Herman's wife and others theorized that "Richard Cory" was written in reference to Herman. In the years preceding the poem's publication, Robinson lost both of his parents, contributing to his overall pessimism and views on the fate of mankind.