We’d All Like to be Richard Cory.

In recent weeks, I have entertained my mind with the meaning of Simon and Garfunkel’s illustrious lyrics. They are one of my favorite bands of all time, which is another post for another day. Simon and Garfunkel were a dynamic duo, and they had influential messages to share through their music.

One song I have listened to repeatedly has been “Richard Cory” from their album, Sounds of Silence. Sounds of Silence is one of the most beautifully and delicately composed albums of all time; each song has a different yet equally penetrating meaning. Richard Cory intrigued me from the first time I heard it because I recognized the poem almost instantly. The poem Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson is one of my favorites. I will post the poem and a snippet of the song lyrics below in order for you to understand what I will be commentating on.

“Richard Cory” 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 favored, 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.
“Richard Cory” by Simon and Garfunkel

They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town
With political connections to spread his wealth around
Born into society, a banker’s only child
He had everything a man could want, power, grace and style

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I’m living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be

Oh, I wish that I could be
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory

… He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read
“Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head”

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I’m living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be

Oh, I wish that I could be
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory

Now, obviously Simon and Garfunkel took artistic license with the character of Richard Cory. And while I think that is perfectly okay and even encouraged, that is not what I am going to discuss. I am going to dissect both the poem and song and probably make a hasty generalization. We all want to be Richard Cory, no matter how unhappy it would make us. Let’s start with the poem.

At first glance, the poem is nothing special. It is about a man who seems to have his life all together but ends up committing suicide. Though it is somewhat depressing, I find this poem to be absolutely brilliant. It is minimalistic and simple, yet it teaches an important life lesson. The speaker is saying that everyone wanted to be in Richard Cory’s place. They strived to be like him and almost worked themselves to death. And in spite of his success in life, he calmly killed himself. The ambiguity leaves us to wonder: did they continue to idolize and immortalize him after he died? I am almost certain they did.

The song is an expansion of the poem in that it shows the backstory, if you will, of the people working “in his factory.” After hearing that Richard Cory put a bullet through his head, the singers are still saying, “Oh I wish that I could be Richard Cory!” Why? I would argue that something both the poem and the song teach us is that we will always idolize someone if they have lots of money or esteem. Always. We desperately want to be Richard Cory, even in knowing it will most likely make us unhappy or possibly drive us to insanity. That is something I find truly fascinating. Perhaps this blog post is absolutely pointless, but if it sparked any creative or intellectually stimulating thoughts or perspectives, please comment below and share your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “We’d All Like to be Richard Cory.

  1. When I was younger I use to hear Simon and Garfunkel a lot because of my uncles along with a lot of music that came way before me. I didn’t really understand the lyrics but I loved the sound. Now when I grew older I began listening to music instead of just “hearing it”. This song has a very profound message behind it and I love how you pointed it out. Also, the message reminds me of the song Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Highlighting how the chase for fame and fortune can lead to our destruction if we base our happiness on it. It’s funny how something that we want so bad to make us happy is the tool that leads us to misery, it’s almost poetic. Interestingly enough that’s almost everything we’re told. The idea of the “American Dream” and having the opportunity to make a better life for yourself is a blessing but a lot of the time it’s followed by “more is always better” and if “I’m not living like the people on tv or in magazines then I can’t be happy with what I have.” I believe that true happiness comes from God but that’s me. Another thing I noticed was in many instances people keep up appearances and don’t show what they really feel inside as Richard Cory was with everyone. Referring back to Californication, we’re being led to believe that the portrayal being shown to us is a life of ecstasy and fun when in reality it can seriously affect someone’s life. It’s sad but I also feel that it encourages people to have genuine friendships with others instead of a Hi and Bye acquaintance. I can look at anyone on the outside but I can never truly see what’s on the inside and I find beauty in the journey that someone takes to get to know someone else. It may not be as great or as productive as the American Dream or the money chase but to me, that’s a new opportunity at happiness.

    p.s. Sorry for the long comment! And thank you for helping me do something I haven’t done in a while, the chance to express myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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