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Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem Richard Cory teaches us a few lessons on how we judge people and their lives and also our own mental health.
All of us have been the victims of our own judgements. We wear a green spectacle when we peep into other’s fence. This leads us to dwell on the famous cliché, ‘The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.’
We think that the life others lead is supreme, highly ordered, impeccably designed and to make it worse, we glorify the negatives of our own life. The word ‘Compare’ takes birth in our minds.
We compare our lives with others. Juxtaposing our life and other’s, we tend to magnify our negatives. What we don’t have is always glorified, while we underline the positives of others. The shade of grass that my neighbour has is always greener than the grass we have. And we wrap our heads in distress. We suffer. In other words, our judgement makes us suffer.
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
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.”
This poem, adequately rhymed and metered, is all about our judgement. The fallacy of our judgement. And the poet includes himself when he states ‘We people’ in the second line. Why? Maybe because he thinks that he too has judged many in his life. He too has fallen victim to the wrong judgement.
Richard Cory was an impeccably dressed man with a well-cultured disposition. He exuded positivity in his surroundings. And he was a man with gentle manners.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, an American poet, has augmented the effect of that statement by saying ‘from sole to crown.’ What a good use of metonymy here!
(Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a related term is used in place of the actual word. Example: from cradle to grave. This means from birth to death. It is generally used to give an added flavour to the text.)
Richard Cory was very rooted when he talked to others. His air of propriety allured everyone. He never prided on his pomp and glitter. A level-headed persona that he was, he did not have any shortage of wealth. The line ‘he was rich – much richer than a king’ vouches for that.
As our shallow thinking pervades us, we start to think that wealth equates happiness, and here, too, people had a similar thought. They thought, ‘what does Richard have to worry about as he has everything from good property to rich life?’
Amid all of these, they cursed their existence. They hated their lifestyle and did not see any worth in slogging from dawn till sundown. They judged a book by its cover literally losing their mind and sanity over it.
Then one day, after his day’s work Richard Cory went to his house and triggered a bullet. Triggered a bullet and smashed each and everyone’s judgement to pieces. Sadly, people did not realise that Richard too had puffy clouds hanging over his head.
The quiet and elusive Cory did change the perspective of the people that day when the cloudburst happened. What they aimed to be for years and dreamt for, just vanished way with the pull of a trigger. Like the little molly who aspired to live in a golden windowed house came to realise that the sun rays reflecting in the water were what made the window glow, the people too woke from this reverie.
The poem also talks only about his virtues filtering out his vices or maybe Richard Cory was a person who wanted to keep his dark secrets to himself or it also says a lot about a myopic role of our eye. Our eyes always view the glitterati and glam but what lays inside those is overlooked.
Richard Cory suffered deeply from something which was not known to the public. His death dawns on us, signifying mental health is far more important in our life. Everything is secondary. Mental illness dwells deep.
This poem is so relatable to our circumstances and the world we live in. Especially when social media adds fuel to this turmoil. The people we mindlessly follow, the glitz and glamour of Instagram and all details shared on Facebook, one can easily be trapped like the people in the poem.
One can easily make a judgement of a book by its cover. What we do not know is social media is just or even less than one percent of a person’s reality. A person wearing a red lipstick might have given her unused crib for sale. Or someone with a picture-perfect Instagram page might be battling with an autoimmune condition. A person posting a travel picture might have just served a notice period and is jobless.
Social media swallows all of those and gives out an eye candy picture of one’s life as a residue. We should throw out the judgmental lens and be happy with our current life and standing. Every day when we see ourselves in the mirror, let’s say it aloud ‘The grass is green on my side of the fence too.’ Because it surely is. Let’s do this and remain stress-free in present and the remainder of our life.
Richard Cory is everywhere. Be it in corporates, the society where we live, the college corridors or the place where we travel during our vacations. He is everywhere in the form of people we meet. But do not get carried away like the people in the poem. Do not judge their state of mind from the attire they wear and the car they tour on. They might be suffering too. We all do. In different ways.
One more point is let’s not be this Richard Cory who just showcased his positives or glamourous social status to the people around us. Know your circle, build a small community wherein you can share your vulnerabilities and seek help when in the time of need.
I heard this line yesterday, ‘It is time we gather because we are on the verge of losing ourselves.’ Invest in your small circle. Do not fire the bullet.
Richard Cory teaches us a few life lessons which can be meditated upon by us and be passed on to the generation next. Also, young minds should understand the essence of it and be more responsible for their life and that of others.
Invest your emotions in a small group of friends where you can be you. As western Europe’s proverb goes, ‘A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved’ holds true in all times. Be responsible for your life.
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: Photo by Wictor Cardoso from Pexels
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