One of my favorite poems by Robert Herrick is “Delight in Disorder”.
In the poem, the poet defines his own aesthetic view of ‘wild civility’. The speaker of the poem ‘finds informality of dress fetching and sexy and indicative of sensuality and availability’ (Bain et al., 767). The poem is full of strong and clear connotations that suggest sensuality – ‘wantonness’, ‘distraction’, erring’, ‘tempestuous’ and ‘wild’.
Literally, the poem says that when a woman’s attire is in a bit of disarray, it displays a naughty and playful disposition that may stimulate a man to think of sensuous thoughts. In the earlier part of the poem, the speaker establishes the subject of woman’s attire by describing a sequence of vivid, mental images. The speaker of the poem finds disorder in the dress ‘sweet’. Lastly, he finds a woman who carries her dress in casual, carefree way more enticing than a woman who dresses too neatly and orderly. It’s like the fastidious grooming for women covers serious flaws and he prefers a woman who is confident to wear dresses in frivolous way.
In deeper analysis, the ‘disorder’ in the dress may also connote the literary art in general. Robert Herrick prefers an art that is not too clinical and too rigidly formal. This observation is exemplified in the last two lines of the poem, when he says that he wasn’t at all ‘bewitch’ when ‘art is too precise’. Although Robert Herrick, as well as the other Cavalier poets, derives the same basic structure of their poems as that of Jonson and Donne, his poems are still charmingly fanciful and wittier than that of the latter (Brooks, 1967). That is why I like his poems. Smile.
Bain, Carl et al. The Norton Introduction to Literature, 6th ed. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1995.
Brooks, Cleanth. Modern Poetry and the Tradition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1967.