If you’ve never read this poem before, you might think Robert Herrick was just an anarchist. Learn the whole steamy truth when you explore this lesson analyzing Herrick’s erotic poem that teaches us how to take ‘Delight in Disorder.’
Delight In Disorder By Robert Herrick
Published as part of his poetry collection Hesperides from 1648, Robert Herrick’s ”Delight in Disorder” is one of his most celebrated works, while also one of his shorter ones. With only seven rhyming couplets, we can take a quick look at this poem before jumping into a discussion where we’ll see what Herrick finds so delightful.
A sweet disorder in the dressKindles in clothes a wantonness;A lawn about the shoulders thrownInto a fine distraction;An erring lace, which here and thereEnthrals the crimson stomacher;A cuff neglectful, and therebyRibands to flow confusedly;A winning wave, deserving note,In the tempestuous petticoat;A careless shoe-string, in whose tieI see a wild civility:Do more bewitch me, than when artIs too precise in every part.
Not Your Ordinary Love Poem
A lot of times when we think about love poetry, we’re probably thinking about romantic verses, full of bold (and often long-winded) pledges and displays of courtly, virtuous love. These romances are often between the most chivalrous of knights and the most modest maidens, who typically won’t even give their champions a kiss, sending tokens (i.e.
handkerchiefs, ribbons, etc.) instead. ”Delight in Disorder” is not that kind of love poetry.From antiquity, poets like Robert Herrick have also enjoyed using the lines of their work to explore the lines of their lovers’ bodies.
Pieces like Herrick’s ”Delight in Disorder” are examples of erotic poetry, or verse works focusing on sexual love.
Analyzing the Poem
To understand what the poetic narrator is so delighted about, we first have to know where the ‘disorder’ lies – ‘in the dress.’ In other words, the speaker’s mistress has had ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ in the past, and as we’ll see, even the slightest of them is enough to arouse his sexual appetites.From the slight skew of the lawn-cloth gown around her shoulders to the haphazard way in which she’s tied her shoes, the narrator observes each slight defect in his mistress’s attire with pleasure. Why does even a ‘cuff neglectful’ get his engines going? Think about a sitcom or movie in which two characters aren’t seen for a moment, then pop back up with their clothes askew or even wearing each other’s clothes.
The audience knows that sexual activity is implied here, and such ruffling of his lady’s ruffles sends the same message to Herrick’s narrator and readers.As he closes his quick assessment of potential wardrobe malfunctions, the narrator admits that they ‘Do more bewitch me, than when art / Is too precise in every part.’ Here’s where the poet’s love of literary and human beauty intersect. What he’s saying is that, just as when he finds his lady’s rustled clothing more exciting than when it’s pressed and straightened, he finds art more pleasurable when it’s also slightly askew.
Herrick demonstrates his delight in literary disorder throughout this poem. For one, not every couplet rhymes perfectly, and these imperfect but very approximate rhymes (i.e.
‘there,’ ‘stomacher;’ ‘thereby,’ ‘confusedly’) are known as slant rhymes. Herrick also includes some metrical irregularities in this otherwise flawless example of iambic tetrameter (four pairs of unstressed then stressed syllables per line) substituting trochees (iamb’s mirror image) with the words ‘kindles’ and ‘ribands.’ These aren’t simple mistakes, but rather artful imperfections that hint at another reason so many have taken pleasure in writing erotic poetry.Erotic poetry has almost always been about something more than celebrating sexuality.
Erotic poets from the ancient Roman Ovid to Herrick himself have also used this medium as a way of exploring the joys of poetic creation. As we can see from the closing couplet of ”Delight in Disorder,” these poets connect their erotically charged lines to the process that made them, using sex and erotic playfulness as metaphorical representations of writing poetry. With works like Herrick’s, then, readers discover that explorations of sexuality are just a few of the poetic pleasures to be had.
Robert Herrick’s ”Delight in Disorder” is only seven couplets long, but that’s plenty to get the point across. It is a piece of erotic poetry (verse works focusing on sexual love) that finds the narrator aroused by even the slightest sight of disarray in his mistress’s clothing. He also says, though, that he finds such disorder pleasing in poetry, as well—a claim backed-up by Herrick’s use of such artful imperfections: imperfect but very approximate rhymes called slant rhymes.
This sort of intertwining of sex and literature is characteristic of erotic poetry, which often uses sexual metaphors to explore the process of poetic creation.