February 11, American Literary Modernism in Arlington’s Poetry: Appearances and Humanness American literary modernism diverges from traditional styles of literature. Edwin Arlington Robinson is an American modernist because his poetry fits into modernism’s conventions of exposing the irrationality of an allegedly rational society. His poems, “Miniver Cheevy” and “Richard Cory,” are examples of American literary modernism because of their symbolic reflections on what happiness and success truly stand for
As symbolic expressions, these poems criticize social assumptions on the meanings of happiness and success. People think that just because someone looks good and is wealthy, they are already happy and do not need anyone. “Richard Cory” is about a “gentleman” (3), “[c]lean favoured” (4), and “richer than a king” (9), and yet, “one calm summer night” (15), he “[w]ent home and put a bullet through his head” (15-16). His good looks, manners, and wealth are what many people aspire for and think as the sources of success and happiness, and yet Cory felt his life is meaningless enough to end it. In another poem, Miniver Cheevy wants both the romance of the old world and the wealth of the modern world. He is the kind of person who “loved the days of old” (5), “scorned the gold he sought,” but also “sore annoyed was he without it” (25-26). He is the typical man who says he wants the chivalry of ancient times, yet he covets material things too, thinking that all these are important to real happiness. However, instead of striving for them, he only thinks (30) and drinks his time away (32). Cheevy is a superficial dreamer, drunk on dreams and action-less days. Through these modernist poems, Robinson challenges the materialistic cultural symbols of modern society, and shows how they shape false meanings of happiness and success.
These poems appeal to me because they ring true in modern life. Even in the news and real life, stories about the rich and famous killing themselves or drugging themselves to death are widespread. They are all Richard Corys, needing more than wealth and yet getting none of what their soul needs to feel happy. “Richard Cory” triggers the thinking that maybe if someone talked to him and acknowledged him as a person, not a cultural symbol of success, it may have had made a difference in his life. As for Miniver Cheevy, he is also everywhere. He is in every person who complains about his life and envies others, and yet he does not want to work for his dreams. He is hopeless because he makes himself helpless. Edwin Arlington Robinson is a true modernist, depicting twenty-first century’s social issues of materialism and unhappiness.
“Literary Renaissance.” Week Six: Literary Renaissance / A Literature of Social and Cultural Challenge Part I – Poetry.
Robinson, Edwin Arlington. “Miniver Cheevy.” 1910. Literary Renaissance. 138. Print.
—. “Richard Cory.” 1897. Literary Renaissance. 137. Print.