Thursday, March 17, 2011

Richard Cory x2

The chick in the photo may have just read Richard Cory.  The mustached gent on the right would be Edwin Arlington Robinson, the cat that wrote the poem. You know Richard Cory, right? We read it in Mr. Thurber's 9th grade English class at Easton High School. Have a look:

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 was the first poem I can recall completely pulling the rug out from under me. Everything is going along well and good until the last line. And then you sit there. And then you look at the author the way the lady in the photo is. "Dude! What?"

Then Richard Cory, the poem in a book, went quiet for a while. Backburner. Until a few years later, driving by 7-11 on Route 50 in Easton, sitting shotgun in my friend Colin's silver Honda Accord hatchback, when this song came on the stereo:

I remember listening, having the song ring the "hey, I know that" button in my brain, and then thinking, "holy sh#%! That's from Thurber's class! We read that poem!"

A couple years ago I brought Richard Cory up at the Museum where I worked and had an ensuing Facebook debate over who remembered it, who had read it in school. And post-debate, neither Colin or I could find the Boot Boys song version anywhere--of course we couldn't remember who it was that sang it anyway. I was convinced it was The Vandals.

In any event, Colin's diligence paid off by finding it on YouTube. It brings me back to the poem in 9th grade and the ensuing discussion on both what took place and the way the poet set us up only to pull the rug out from under us. And it takes me back to hearing that song in the car and realizing that something I learned in 9th grade actually informed me, gave me a context to understand what was going on in the song.

Edwin Arlington Robinson won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes. He never met The Boot Boys. But I bet he would have dug their tune.


Lawrence Person said...

I'm not sure if you're aware, but Simon & Garfunkle did a song called "Richard Corey."Unlike the version you posted, it's an adaptation of the Robinson poem, rather than a straight transcription:

Michael Valliant said...

Thanks, Lawrence! I do know that song (though I didn't when I first heard the Boot Boys version).

For me, it is the memory/recall of hearing the song and recognizing the poem from high school, so it is the posted version that sends me.