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In the Edwin-Emma-Hennan relationship, however, rivalry apparently developed into jealousy. The depth of the poet's involvement is revealed in "Cortege," as has been said. To what extent that rivalry-jealousy pattern was subliminal is hard to say; but not, by any means, was all of it so. Significantly, Edwin wrote to Harry DeForest Smith as early as March 11, 1894, betraying a conscious awareness of the conflict that continued: "Your third belated letter came Saturday, and I was glad to hear that you are coming home in a fortnight. You say that your time will be pretty well taken up, but you may be willing to take one or two brief vacations and listen to my five wild sketches—not including 'Marshall.' I have another in my mind on the philosophical enmity of two brothers who were not born for the same purpose." [italics added]

In any case, knowing that the rivalry existed makes it easier to hear the bitter overtones in poems that seem indubitably to be portraits of Hennan Robinson. "Richard Cory" comes first to mind because it is a nearly perfect representation of Edwin's next older brother; but, since this poem was written early, it may have been merely a well-imagined projection of things to come or of things Robinson had observed. "Bewick Finzer," "Bokardo," and "Flammonde," however, are, as the Memoir suggests, among the poems closely associated with Hennan.

Cory, rich, "imperially slim," perfectly schooled in all the amenities, the most admired man in Tilbury Town, went home one day and "put a bullet through his head." Manifestly, Hennan took the slower, more measured, course of drink; but the result was the same, almost as though he sought death. How much more sharply the irony penetrates, though, if we know about the myth! It is double-edged.

[. . .]

We have already seen, in an examination of those poems that reflect personal history, Robinson's involvement with the problem of failure in our lives. Why he devoted so many of his writing hours to this subject is not easily explained. Possibly he was motivated by his own failure to achieve recognition that he sought, a feeling that persisted in him for many frustrated years. Unquestionably, he was moved deeply by the tragic incidence of failure in the lives of his two brothers. It is apparent, however, that man as failure became for him a part of his cosmic view of the world he lived in. Perhaps the "why" was as inexplicable to him as the mystery of life itself. How he treated his failure-figure, whose faces peered over the edge of his writing table, sometimes despondently, sometimes hopefully, is of greater significance.

Broadly defined, the theme follows two patterns: one is the failure who seems to be beyond redemption, who does not, finally, possess the saving grace of character that would find favor in men's eyes, or who does not experience some inner change that would render less severe the general indictment against him. The other is the failure who for reasons of almost infinite variety is redeemed, exonerated, saved, or in whom the reader finds some aspect or some alteration of the inner man that lifts him from the shame of complete ignominy.

The first of these types is not so numerous as the second, but he is distinctly marked, even then. While in another relationship Richard Cory was considered in the preceding chapter, he falls into the general class of the failure; and the poem in which he is the central figure lives because it is a powerful statement of an inner, even if an undefined, tragedy in the life of one man. The external man the "people on the pavement" praised and envied and acknowledged; for Cory, to them, seemingly had everything. What private sense of failure, what personal recognition of his own inadequacy, or what secret unfulfilled longing drove Cory to suicide Robinson does not say; he leaves the reason for his readers to determine. But the crashing climactic moment of the night that Richard Cory "went home and put a bullet through his head" appalls every reader with its suddenness. After he has recovered from his shock and has reflected upon the intensity of the poem created by the contrast of the somber people of the community on the one hand and the brilliant heroic stature of Cory on the other, the reader is left with a sharp sense of emptiness, of a life wasted, of failure—and of Cory's hidden agony.