By Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2009
Revised in 2011...©
Type of Work and Publication Year
......."Delight in Disorder" is a fourteen-line lyric poem. John Williams and F. Eglesfield published the poem in London in 1648 as part of Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine of Robert Herrick Esq, a collection of Herrick's poems.
.......In this poem, Herrick presents the theme that beauty is at its most alluring when it is in disarray, like flaming October leaves along a footpath or a "winning wave (deserving note) / In the tempestuous petticoat" (lines 9 and 10). This is a popular theme in literature, as the following quotations—all similar in meaning to Herrick's observation—testify:
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.—Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)........Another way of stating the theme is that imperfections and inconsistencies can enhance the appeal of a person, a place, a thing, an action, or an idea. For example, an imperfection—a crack—helps make the Liberty Bell one of Philadelphia's most popular tourist attractions. Likewise, a very noticeable imperfection helps make the Leaning Tower of Pisa one of Italy's foremost tourist draws. A single mole on the cheek of a beautiful woman tends to increase rather than diminish her beauty. And graying temples can turn a middle-aged man into a distinguished gentleman. In art, outstanding paintings often position the focal point away from "perfect center." Examples are Claude Monet's Impression, soleil levant, Edvard Munch's The Scream, and Honoré Daumier's Der Maler. In modern fashion, only faded jeans—or jeans with holes in the knees—will do. Young men must display a slightly whiskered face—young women, tousled hair.
.Text of the Poem
A sweet disorder in the dress
1...lawn: Sheer cotton or linen fabric used in clothing.
.......The tone is light and playful.
.......The poem consists of seven couplets. (A couplet is a pair of rhyming lines.) However, the rhyme scheme requires the reader to alter the pronunciation of the final syllable of some words. Here is the poem with the rhyming syllables highlighted.
A sweet disorder in the dressInternal Rhyme
.......Herrick also uses internal rhyme in the poem. In the following lines, the rhyming vowels are highlighted.
Kindles in clothes a wantonness (line 2)Meter
.......Herrick wrote the poem mainly in iambic tetrameter. A line of iambic tetrameter has eight syllables, or four feet. An iambic foot, or iamb, consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The first line of the poem demonstrates the pattern.
......1...............2.............3...............4.............However, although lines 2 and 8 follow the tetrameter pattern, they veer from the iambic pattern. Here is why: Each of these lines opens with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. (A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable constitutes a trochee.)
...................1...................2.................3..............4Note that the first foot of line 1 (a SWEET) is an iamb. On the other hand, the first foot of line 2 (KIN dles) is a trochee, as is the first foot (RIB bons) of line 8. For a complete explanation of metric formats, click here.
.......Herrick achieves a pleasing structural balance in the poem by doing the following:
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures of speech, click here.)
disorder in the dress (line 1)Metaphor
tempestuous petticoat (line 10)Paradox
wild civility (line 12)Study Questions and Writing Topics
1. Do you like the poem? Explain why or why not.
2. Herrick uses inversion in three lines to impart a pleasing poetic ring to the poem. Line 3, for example, says, A lawn about the shoulders thrown (instead of A lawn thrown about the shoulders). Line 7 begins with A cuff neglectful (instead of A neglectful cuff). What is the other line containing inversion?.
3. Herrick begins the poem with a sentence (lines 1 and 2) that establishes the theme. He then presents details to support the theme. Write a poem of your own that imitates this format.