Study Help

Coping with an unseen poem

by Betsy Tucker

Betsy Tucker is an experienced English Home Language educator and author.

Students are often nervous about the unseen poetry in their Literature exams. The best ways to prepare are:

  • Make sure you know the definitions of all the literary terms (look them up in our glossaries and use our revision cards to check your knowledge)
  • Practice analyzing unseen poetry

Here’s a poem to help you practise. First read the poem at least twice. Then try to answer the questions below the poem. Once you have tried all the questions, read the suggested answers.

Richard Cory
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement liked 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 Corey, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Written by E.A. Robinson (1869–1935)


1. What sort of person is speaking? How do you know this?
2. In the first three stanzas, what picture does the reader get, of Richard Cory?
3. The last stanza is a tremendous anti-climax. What causes it to be an anti-climax?
4. Give the meaning of the following:
  a. quietly arrayed (stanza 2)
  b. clean favoured (stanza 1)
  c. imperially slim (stanza 1)
5. What punctuation might be used in stanza 3, instead of the dashes?
6. What are the four-line stanzas called?
7. What is the rhyme-scheme?
8. What, do you think, is the theme of this poem?

Suggested answers

1. When you read the poem, you notice that the speaker points out “a gentleman”. The speaker himself is one of the “people” who stand on the pavement and they are impressed by Richard Cory’s appearance , his riches and the fact that he is “admirably schooled in every grace.” The speaker, however, is one of those who “worked” and “went without meat”. So we can conclude that he is poorer, less educated and understandably envious of the good fortune of Richard Cory.
2. Richard Cory is a gentleman who has all the looks, clothes and education of the affluent, but at the same time is “always human”. Everyone is excited when he greets them (“he fluttered pulses”).
3. The reader expects that Richard Cory will be happy with his position in society. Instead, he commits suicide, for reasons not given. (Perhaps the speaker never found out what caused this disaster.)
  a. Dressed (arrayed) in clothes which do not draw attention to themselves.
  b. His face (favour) had fine features.
  c. Very thin, like some-one who had a good position in an empire (imperially)
5. Commas or brackets could be used to indicate the information which is in parenthesis.
6. Quatrains
7. abab
8. The theme is the central point which the poem makes. Here, we are presented with some-one who seems enviable in every way. Then we learn that he must have been in despair, as he kills himself. So it seems that we can conclude that we should not judge by appearances, as they can be deceptive. Also, we should perhaps not be too quick to envy others, as we never know their real circumstances.

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