One day after the shock of Robin Williams’ death, I cannot help but recite Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem, “Richard Cory
,” and see that, line by line, this poem is tragically fitting to a man the world has dubbed a “sad clown
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.
From the first line, it is clear that Richard Cory is separate from the townspeople: “Whenever Richard Cory went down town,/We people on the pavement looked at him.” Richard Cory is a rich and intelligent man, and this sets him apart from everyone else. Throughout the poem, the town is united in the pronoun “we,” and Richard Cory is on his own, but it is not in a disdainful way. Richard Cory is regarded as “a gentleman from sole to crown” and that “he was human when he talked.” He manages to stay humble and kind to the people he talks to, despite the admiration of the people he meets.
The town as a whole admires Richard Cory: “And he was rich—yes, richer than a king–/And admirably schooled in every grace.” Everyone has put him high on a pedestal, and by the third stanza it seems that Richard Cory is even the town’s idol: “We thought that he was everything/To make us wish that we were in his place.” He is admired so much that people wanted to be him.
The twist comes in the last two lines of the poem: “And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,/Went home and put a bullet through his head.” The man had what the townspeople craved, and what many people want in life, but he ended his life with a fatal bullet. Money and admiration could not keep Richard Cory alive.
When I read this poem today, I cannot help but think of Robin Williams. While his and Richard Cory’s lives did not end in the same manner, they were both by their own hands, and suddenly, while we townspeople “went without the meat and cursed the bread.” Both were rich, intelligent, beloved by everyone, humble, yet devastatingly alone. We as a world are shocked because even though we knew of Robin Williams’ drug and alcohol addictions, we as outsiders thought he was happy. Many of us looked to him as our idol.
The death of Robin Williams, and like so many other tragic suicides, proves the paradox of “feeling alone in a room full of people.” Millions of people love you, know your name, look to you for inspiration, yet you may be fighting a battle against demons who are eating you alive. It is unclear if Richard Cory had reached out for help, but we know that just weeks before his death, Robin Williams had been in rehab, maybe asking for someone to help him fight his demons.
As time passes, we probably won’t be able to ever understand Robin Williams’ demons, but we can learn from his life, films, and kindness. Millions around the world suffer from addictions and depression, and as a society, we need to strive to erase the stigma of these illnesses.
A nonprofit organization called To Write Love on Her Arms, started in 2006, makes it a mission to bring awareness and help to those suffering from self harm, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression. With organizations like these, it is vital that we learn to have open communication in hopes that those secretly suffering will find the help they need.