Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem from the 1890s of the same name is the inspiration for this song performed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, from their 1966 record, Sounds of Silence. It is written by Simon.
Money can’t buy happiness appears to be the obvious message of the tune, which has a narrator take his life despite being a successful man. And that we shouldn’t make judgements based on appearances. And other high school English-level epiphanies.
Bigger picture, perhaps the message is critical of the American Dream, a belief in success coming from hard work. The Declaration of Independence proclaims all people equal, and thus able to achieve their ambitions through gumption.
Now, before you get all excited, this is easier said than done. No doubt many fail to live up to the American Dream ethos. That’s fine if they try, try again. Yet some fall short through no fault of their own and are held back by external barriers beyond their control (racism, sexism, disability…). What does this say about the individualism of America?
And in Richard Cory we still find a man that had it all, and didn’t want it, couldn’t take it? The song may be suggesting that the American Dream is flawed at the core as much as in its practice and application. Very biting criticism, even if from songwriters who are entrepreneurial self-starters themselves.
Oddly, this cover replaces Richard Cory for folkie John Denver.