“Richard Cory” is most noted for its surprise ending, which on its first reading typically both startles and enthralls students. They are jolted by the horrible action of Richard Cory in the last line, but they delight in rereading the poem to discover the techniques which made the unexpected ending something which they realize they should have “expected.”
My handout, I hope, will help your students in this discovery, which is the essential joy that all readers should take from great literature. Among the poetic techniques of “Richard Cory” which the handout explores are its themes, structure, irony, imagery, and symbolism. Through the activities and exercises in it students should come away with an awareness of how the smallest aspect of this textured poem is important; for instance, why did Robinson use the name Richard Cory?
My handout, which has blanks which your students can fill in, is suitable as an in-class activity or for homework. An Answer Key is provided on a separate sheet at the end of the handout.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.