A short poem… with a lot to talk about

As an English teacher I was always looking for poems which would resonate with our young people intrigue and engage them. Because my students were not always in the mood to work… or should I say, were not often in the mood to work, shorter poems stood a better chance than longer ones; at the same time my students were not stupid, far from it, and they needed something which would capture their imagination and resonate with them… otherwise thy might start throwing things around the room, pens, paper airplanes, chairs, each other…

This poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson certainly did that; despite it having been written over a hundred years ago, it was easy for my clever students to envisualise Richard Cory, they could understand the point of view of the people watching him pass by, they ‘got’ that he could be popular and loved despite his riches and social standing, because of his grace and lack of arrogance.

E. A. Robinson

I always got great work from them about this poem, and they got great marks in their work and ultimately their exams.

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favoured 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.

E.A. Robinson


  1. Carl D'Agostino

    This poem was introduced to us in fifth or sixth grade. I still don’t understand the purpose or wisdom of introducing it to young children. I supposed today’s children are a hundred times more desensitized to murder, death, and violence than we were five and six decades ago. It is certainly appropriate for junior and senior high schoolers I think.


    1. Lois

      I’m not quite sure how old fifth and sixth grade would be… about 9, 10, 11? I definitely think it is a poem for older students and definitely, definitely agree that children these days see and hear things which they don’t have the maturity or understanding to deal with. My son used to complain when I wouldn’t let him get the latest computer game… he would go to his friends’ houses and play the games there, sometimes with their dads too!


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