Delight in Disorder by Robert Herrick

Introduction

‘Delight in Disorder’ is an exquisite poem of English literature by the Cavalier poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674). The poem attracts the heart of every reader by its lyrical quality and harmonious end rhyme. In the poem, the poet expresses his feelings of extreme happiness derived from the disordered dress of a woman.

Let us now discuss the ‘Cavalier Poet’. Actually, the world “Cavalier’ derived from ‘Carolus’, the Latin version of Charles. The reign of Charles I (1625-1649) was the time of ‘English Civil War’, fought between the supporters of the king known a ‘Cavaliers’ and the supporters of the parliament known as “Round head”. However, a group of lyric poets associated with the ‘Cavaliers’ are called the Cavalier poets, for example, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Sir Johan Suckling and Thomas Carew. These poets are also called the ‘Sons of Ben’ as they were admirers and followers of Ben Jonson. They usually wrote short lyric poems, generally in a lighter vein, gay, trivial, witty and often licentious. The main object of their poems was the ‘woman and beauty’.

Robert Herrick is, indeed, a Cavalier poet. Because his poetry especially ‘Delight In Disorder’ bears all the characteristics of a Cavalier poet’s writings. If we look into the poem, we must get the evidence in favour of it. The poem ‘Delight in Disorder’ is notably short in length and very much witty as well as licentious in theme. It deals with the description of a disorderly dressed lady. Most probably, the name of the lady is ‘Julia’. We, very beginning of the poem, see that the poet traces out a disorder in the lawn that is thrown carelessly about the shoulders. Says the poet; “A Lawn about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction:”

The lawn should be attached with shoulders but the lady’s one is free from her neck. This is the source of joy for the poet. Next, the poet finds another disorder in her stomacher. As the poet describes:

“An erring lace which here and there

Enthrals the crimson stomacher.”

Thirdly, the poet gets one more disorder in her cuff which is used carelessly in lady’s hand. As the poet narrates:

“A cuff neglectful and thereby;

Ribbons to flow confusedly.”

Fourthly, the poet notices a disorder in lady’s petticoat. In the poet’s speech:

“A winning wave, deserving note,

In the tempestuous petticoat;”

The petticoat should be well attached to the body, but the petticoat of the lady is waiving in the air. The poet thinks it is a delightful meter.

Finally, the poet discovers a disorder in her shoestring. As remarks the poet;

“A careless shoestring in whose tie

I see a wild civility:”

Generally, the disorder makes a man displeased but in the case of the poet, it makes him pleased as he says;

“Do More Bewitch me them when art

Is too precise in every part.”

In conclusion, it must be said that Robert Herrick, a Cavalier poet, very successfully breaks the traditional concept that delight can only be found in harmony through the poem “delight in disorder” Moreover it possesses a high musical quality and the melodious end rhyme. So considering all these things, it can be regarded as the best example of his poetic intelligence.

Summary

The lyric “Delight in Disorder” is from his collection of lyrics “Hesperides” published in 1648. The gist of the poem is that the poet narrator finds a woman who has dressed carelessly more attractive and seductive than a woman who has dressed very correctly. The following adjectives foreground the lack of attention by the woman to the various articles of her dress: “disorder,” “distraction,” “erring,” “neglectful,” “confusedly,” “tempestuous” and “careless.” She has worn every article of her dress carelessly, however, it is this complete lack of attention to her dress which makes her look sexy [“wantonness”] and “bewitches” him all the more.

What is more important is to realize how the three influences-Cavalier poetry, Metaphysical poetry and Ben Jonson’s lyricism-are amalgamated in this exquisite lyric “Delight in Disorder.” Cavalier poetry is secular and its language and imagery are simple and direct, unlike Metaphysical poetry which is characterized by complicated imagery which renders the poem ambiguous. The ambiguity in this poem is, whether Herrick is describing a woman who has dressed carelessly or a painting of a woman who has dressed carelessly – “than when art/Is too precise in every part.” A lyric is an expression of the poet’s own feelings as a response to an external stimulus and Ben Jonson’s lyrical influence can best be seen in the last three lines of the poem:

“I see a wild civility;–

Do more bewitch me, than when art

Is too precise in every part.”

The poet comments on the clothing of a woman and highlights the particular garments, noting their imperfections. Yet, he still admires the pieces and the woman herself. At the end of the poem, the poet reveals that he prefers these imperfections over a “precise art”.

The poet’s message could be deciphered as beauty can be found amidst the flaws of both humanity and art. Imperfections are more alluring and powerful than the illusion of perfection.

The poem has an irregular rhyme scheme, highlights the disorder and suggests imperfection within art.

The poet also uses diction to enhance the feeling of disorder. He also implies that clothing, like art, is more appealing when it is not perfect. This highlights the importance of a unique self – expression.

“An erring lace, which here and there enthrals the crimson stomacher” The poet used personification to describe the lace, which is described to wrap around the lady’s stomach.

The clothing imagery conveys the quality of disorder and enhances the idea that flawed art can also be beautiful. The poetic techniques reflect the message that there is beauty in imperfection. The whole poem basically implies that we should embrace imperfections like they’re beauty itself.

Analysis

This is a great poem for practising close reading. Written over 350 years ago, it may seem difficult at first; after a few readings, though, its meaning becomes clear, and it offers some obvious examples of how style and structure create deeper meaning and nuance.

First, be sure you understand what Herrick is talking about. The speaker describes in detail a woman’s clothing — style, colour, and fabric. Some of the vocabularies are unfamiliar to readers today, such as lawn and stomacher. Other words, such as petticoat, may be archaic, but you have probably come across them before. As always, if you don’t know what something means, you should look it up.

As you read the poem, you might have noticed the personification. The speaker notes the “fine distraction” of the scarf thrown over the woman’s shoulders, a “cuff” that is “neglectful,” ribbons that “flow confusedly,” and a “tempestuous petticoat.” The personification suggests that the clothes reflect qualities of the person wearing them.

Similarly, the “erring lace” “[e]nthralls the crimson stomacher,” as if a mere decoration could take such deliberate action. Two oxymorons (paradoxes made up of two seemingly contradictory words) support the possibility that something is going on other than the literal description of clothing. The opening line refers to a “sweet disorder,” but most would consider disorder unsettling, hardly “sweet”; later, the speaker sees a “wild civility,” another seeming contradiction, because how can “civility” — or courteous behaviour — be “wild”? Now that you’re aware of the personification and the oxymorons in this poem, reread it to see if you can pick up on what they suggest.

Note the words suggesting passion: Kindles, wantonness, crimson, tempestuous, and bewitch. Is this poem actually about seduction? If so, its indirect manner is not overtly sexual or vulgar but flirtatious, sly, even mischievous. Alliteration adds a teasing singsong quality: “Delight . . . Disorder,” “winning wave,” and “precise . . . part.”

Further, the symmetry of the alliteration brings a bit of order into the description of disorder — but only a bit.

We might look to the structure of the poem for further evidence of the playful tone. The structure seems regular and predictable. The fourteen lines are presented in seven rhymed pairs, or couplets, most having eight syllables. The opening and closing couplets have exactly rhyming final syllables (“dress” / “wantonness” and “art” / “part”).

Notice the neatly repeating parallel structure of lines 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. However, there are inconsistencies within the poem. Some of the rhymes are only near rhymes (e.g., ll. 11 and 12: “tie” does not rhyme with “civility”). The poem’s lines are in iambic tetrameter, but the rhythm is not always even. The evenness of the opening line, for instance (“A sweet disorder in the dress”) is violated by line 10 (“In the tempestuous petticoat”). It seems Herrick’s contention that “disorder” can be “sweet” is reflected in the structure of the poem.

Or, put in more thematic terms, Herrick might be reminding us that appearances can be deceiving, that perfection may not be as appealing as charming imperfections. Or, given the cultural mores of his time dictating strict outward propriety, he might be telling his readers that passion lurks just beneath the veneer of polite society.

Delight in Disorder by Robert Herrick Summary, Analysis and Questions

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