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Coincidence? I think not!

Edwin Arlington Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize winning American modernist poet, is the Robert Browning of American poetry. His dramatic monologues and long poetic narratives are just as poignant today as they were almost one hundred years ago.

So this Edwin Arlington Robinson shares an eternal linguistic bond with one 1960’s rock band.

Simon & (OMG!) Garfunkel.

I’m sure everyone enjoys “Sound of Silence” and “Bookends” but, “Richard Cory” is my man of the hour.

This suicidal aristocrat is the creation of Edwin Arlington Robinson and is given new beats in the 1960’s rock movement.

So let’s lit geek out and compare!!

This is the 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.

This is the Simon & Garfunkel:

Follow this link to listen! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euuCiSY0qYs

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.

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he’s got.

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.

Both texts follow the same basic story line with a few liberties. Obvious updates are made in the Simon & Garfunkel version to first set it to music and second make it more relevant to the society which had drastically changed in 40 years.

The original is obviously much more literary yet, the rock version changes highlight the rhetorical aspect of writing.

The interesting changes of Simon & Garfunkel’s focus on the self and the individual as opposed to a collective “us” in the original, illustrate a social shift.

The author/ singer & songwriter demographic differences also create an interesting twist. Robinson came from (an unhappy) aristocratic family. There is speculation the poem was written for Robinson’s brother but, I digress. Robinson attended Harvard briefly, but became bored and left to follow his passion.

The duo from Queens have much more in common with the factory people they sing about. Perhaps, society is not to blame for the narrative shift but, economics.

Both pieces still share the Merchant of Venice message “all that glisters is not gold.”

Richard Cory… rich boy poor boy.

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