By 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-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 in his head.
I was a senior in high school when I first read this poem in AP English. It resonated with me then and it's one of the poems I've never forgotten over the years. Seems I had a darkish center even back then. Hell, especially back then.
I suppose as a teenager the ending was shocking enough to appeal to my macabre side, but as an adult I recognize it's really about the illusion of perfection and the fragility of the human mind. If only I was thinner, richer, lovelier, smarter, more successful–then I'd be happy. But for beautiful, rich, well-regarded Richard Cory, none of it was enough and I suspect it wouldn't be enough for me either.
Sometimes I wonder how many people I know are truly happy. Some people's unhappiness sticks out on them like a neon-pink sign over their heads, but for most, I think it's more subtle, especially since humans are very good at creating images and keeping up appearances.
Being the depressed sort, happiness does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it. But instead of thinking "this is the cross I have to bear, woe is me," I've begun to believe that perhaps happiness is something most people have to work on to varying degrees. In this way it's no different than watching one's weight. Sure, there are those lucky bastards who never have to worry about what they eat, but in reality, most people do, at least to some extent.
In conclusion, I'll take this topic back to writing. For the longest time I was a writer that didn't write. There was a part of me that believed that if it didn't come naturally (i.e. didn't require practice, discipline, and persistence) then I wasn't a writer. I understand now that's complete bullshit. Just like working to be happy and working to be healthy, I also have to work to be a writer. Wow. Who knew?
2 Replies to “Richard Cory and the Question of Happiness”
It’s “through his head” not “in his head”.
I remember that poem too. I think happiness is something you work at. I’m a pretty happy person, but like everyone, I have some unhappy things in my life. Sometimes, I do have to wake up in the morning and tell myself to be happy! Not to go all Oprah, but I do think reflecting on your blessings in life and feeling gratitude is a step towards happiness. That’s how I push back when I do feel unhappy.