If you haven’t already (or even if you have), go read Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem Richard Cory. Now. Go read it NOW. The link is right there. Stop reading this. Go.
So now you’ve read it.
It’s sad–very sad–shockingly sad–but it’s one of my favorite poems in the world. In just sixteen lines, Mr. Robinson depicts a heartbreaking aspect of human nature, and he does it brilliantly.
Also, the meter is flawless and the rhyme scheme is consistent without being sing-songy.
Mr. Robinson was a master.
Ever since I read this poem, I’ve been fascinated with Richard Cory. Who wouldn’t be? I think we’re all asking the same question that the people on the pavement asked–what happened to make him so unhappy?
No one knows.
So we imagine it, right?
One day I wrote a little piece called “Richard Cory Uptown.” It’s a short piece, a snippet, really, a little flash of what Mr. Cory’s life might have been like before–before he fought with his sister and slammed the door while leaving–before he got in his car and drove halfway across America in anger–before he stopped at a little run-down town and bought the house way up on the hill. Before he ever went downtown and the people on the pavement looked at him.
That’s how I see it. In any case, here it is. It probably isn’t consistent with the time period of Mr. Robinson’s poem, but you’ll have to overlook that. It’s a work of the imagination, anyway, so indulge me and imagine.
Richard Cory Uptown
I stepped out of the shiny black car onto the asphalt. Regal stepped out next to me, put her arm through the crook of my elbow, and pulled me forward. She knew I didn’t want to be here tonight. I knew it didn’t matter.
We knew a lot about each other, but when it came to making things happen, Regal always won.
Before we stepped inside, I took a deep breath. Then we stepped inside. I was glad for that breath–otherwise, I think I would have been smothered to death immediately with black satin and expensive perfume. These anniversaries made me sick.
Regal swept in like she always does, her red dress rustling, her head lifted high, her smile flashing into every corner in the room. The thing about Regal was that she just–she knew. She had no false confidence. Everything she took pride in was based on hard fact. She knew she was beautiful and strong. She acted accordingly.
Weak people flock to strong ones. Immediately, men and women surrounded us, but they didn’t care about me. They wanted to be near Regal. I let them. I pulled my arm out of hers and left her to the snivelers and the simperers. She could handle herself. She could handle them too.
She was a lot like our mother, really. Mama had that same brazen confidence, that same accurate pride. That pride named Regal. Mama didn’t think or wish or hope she would be royalty–she knew. She knew that Regal Cory would be royalty, because she knew that all Corys were royal.
I took after someone else–probably some obscure great-uncle or second cousin. I knew that the Corys were royalty. I knew that I was a Cory.
But Regal–Regal felt like royalty. You could tell by the way she walked, the way she talked, the way she smiled. People bowed down around her and she basked in it. Because she belonged there. Like my mother.
That was my problem–that was where I was different. I didn’t belong there. I didn’t feel like royalty, or like a Cory.
I left my sister’s side and made my way to the bar. There were always a couple of dozers, there–a couple of men whose wives or sisters had dragged them there–a couple of men who milled around in black ties and dazzling smiles but really preferred button-ups and five o’clock shadows–a couple of men who ran in high circles but weren’t blind to the lower ones. I liked being around these men. They were strong. As strong as Regal–maybe stronger–but in a very different way. I liked to think I was like them. I liked to think that they thought that too.
“Cory!” one of them called to me. “Come and join us!”
So there it is–Richard Cory Uptown. What do you think?