Robert Herrick is often considered a religious poet. Born on August 34th, 1591 in London, he was sure to have experienced the rigid life of a religious person during this time period (Robert Herrick). Herrick took holy orders in 1623. However, “during the Great Rebellion in 1647, he was removed from his position because of his Royalist sympathies” (Robert Herrick). This is ironic when considering this poem, because it would seem that Herrick adhered to traditional practices and lived by a rigid religious system. However, Delight in Disorder suggests that he enjoyed that which went against the grain in the finer details of individual life. He expresses the beauty he sees in disorder in the small things in life such as lawn and dress. It is likely that he noticed the beauty in anything out of order because it was rare for him to see. It sharply contrasted the entire makeup of the society in which he lived, and so it was beautiful to him. He considered anything wayward or out of place to be a form of art. This poem explains his feelings about the order and disorder of the things around him.
Delight in Disorder Analysis
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
Given the time period in which the author lived, it is interesting the the speaker in this poem would note disorder in the appearance of the people around him. Because there was little disorder in society and the lifestyle he was accustomed to, he noticed the disorder in the small things such as the attire of the people around him. For example, he noticed if someone was not wearing a dress exactly properly. He noticed small “kindles in clothes” which to him were a “wantonness”. These little examples of disorder represented, to the speaker, a subtle way of going astray. This is why he specifically uses the word “wantonness”. He then describes a lawn that has not been properly cared for. While some people would see a mess, this speaker enjoys the sight of “a lawn about the shoulders thrown into a fine distraction”. Even a lawn left to itself long enough to be shoulder height was something this speaker considered “sweet” and “a fine distraction”. He does not expound upon just what the lawn distracts him from, but it is clear that the lawn left to itself possessed a beauty that allowed the speaker to be distracted from something in his everyday, likely rigid life. It offered something different from the structure and ideals of society.
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribands to flow confusedly;
Again, the speaker seems to focus on the clothing of the people around him. The description of “an erring lace” and “crimson stomacher” suggests that he is noticing flaws particularly in women’s’ clothing. He delights in these subtle little evidences of disorder. He enjoys to see “a cuff neglectful” or perhaps not folded quite right. He also enjoys seeing “ribands…flow confusedly”. When he saw someone whose appearance was not quite neat and tidy, he did not see them as messy or neglectful, but rather he saw it as something unique and beautiful.
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
With these lines, the speaker continues to refer to women’s clothing when he describes the “winning wave” and “deserving note” which he finds when he sees a “tempestuous petticoat”. The word “tempestuous” refers to a “tempest” or a great storm. This particular petticoat must have been entirely out of place so that it looked at though it had survived a great storm. And yet, the speaker takes delight in it. He describes his enjoyment in seeing “a careless shoe-string”. He finds amusement in this shoe-string because in it, he sees “wild civility”. This phrase offers some insight into the rest of this poem. The speaker here does not necessarily enjoy all kinds of disorder. Rather, he describes subtle disorders in dress and lawn care. This reveals that although he knows order must be followed in society and in the world at large, he enjoys seeing disorder in the subtle things because he knows that it reveals individuality. To him, the disorder he sees is not the lack of civility, but rather, “wild civility”. While these people he has seen are still living according to the rules of civility and society, they are also expressing their disorder and individuality in subtle ways which the speaker enjoys observing . The speaker then explains that all of these little evidences of individual disorder “bewitch” him ever more so than “when art is too precise in every part”. Thus, what the speaker sees as true art, is the slight disorder he sees in everyday life. This disorder is evidence of individuality and the uniqueness of each person and his or her lifestyle. Everything that the speaker notes as an evidence of “sweet” disorder is something that could be easily fixed, but he does not want it to be fixed to fit the rigid standard of society. Rather, he enjoys experiencing those little subtle things in which a person could express his own “wild civility”. These people he has watched are not necessarily going against society. They are not living as uncivilized people. This reveals the speaker appreciation for some order and civility in life. However, his enjoyment in the little evidences of disorder reveal his appreciation for the individual. When he sees a ruffled petticoat or a shoe string untied, or a lace out of place or a cuff not folded quite right, or a lawn left uncut, he sees the beauty of the individual and considers this to be art.
“Robert Herrick.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.