Robert Herrick’s Poem Delight in Disorder: Summary, Analysis, Theme, Rhyme Scheme

A nineteenth-century English poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne called Robert Herrick “the greatest songwriter ever born of English race.” Herrick was a popular English lyric poet of the seventeenth century who was privileged to pursue a literary life under English playwright Ben Jonson. 

Robert Herrick is renowned especially for his two books of poetry, Hesperides and Noble Numbers. Though Herrick never got married he often brought poetic personas like Julia and Corinna in his poems. In one of his popular poems, Delight in Disorder, Herrick does not specify the woman but he describes a lady whom he probably liked during his youth.

Delight in Disorder by Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress 
Kindles in clothes a wantonness; 
A lawn about the shoulders thrown 
Into a fine distraction; 
An erring lace, which here and there 
Enthrals the crimson stomacher; 
A cuff neglectful, and thereby 
Ribands to flow confusedly; 
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.

What is the Summary of Robert Herrick’s Poem ‘Delight in Disorder’?

In his poem Delight in Disorder, Robert Herrick describes how he finds women in a disordered dress more pleasurable than well-dressed ones. Herrick begins by declaring that “A sweet disorder in the dress” makes one look sexually exciting. Then, he describes the dress he has seen a woman wearing.



The lady, the poet describes, has a linen scarf along her shoulder and is described as ‘fine distraction’. Moreover, the woman is wearing a stomacher of which the lace has not been tied evenly. Despite the mistake, the clothing enthralls Herrick. Likewise, the cuff of her sleeve is neglectful and there are entangling ribbons around it.

What wins the heart of the poet most is the lady’s tempestuous petticoat. In addition, her shoelace is also carelessly done in which he sees wild civility. In the last couplet, Herrick reveals what he meant by describing all those clothing things of a female. He finds the carelessly and mistakenly worn clothes more bewitching than clothes that are properly and carefully worn. He concludes that disorderliness delights him more than civility.

Analysis of Robert Herricks’s Delight in Disorder; What is its Rhyme Scheme?

Robert Herrick’s poem Delight in Disorder has fourteen lines with the rhyme scheme of aa bb cc dd ee ff gg. Like the title suggests, the poet does not make a very conscious choice in terms of rhyming words. For example, ‘tie’ and ‘civility’, ‘thereby’ and ‘confusedly’, ‘thrown’ and ‘distraction’ are not proper rhymes.

Herrick makes use of several oxymorons in his poem Delight in Disorder. For instance, people normally do not tend to find disorderliness as delightful. For the poet, a distraction is also a fine thing and he finds civility in carelessness as well.

In the third and the fourth lines of the poem, Herrick says: “A lawn about the shoulders thrown/ Into a fine distraction.” In this context, the lawn is probably a shawl which is worn by women in order to cover their cleavage. On one hand, it is a distraction that men cannot see the feminine cleavage so as to express their wantonness. On the other hand, the poet also says it is fine.



Also, Read: To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet: Summary, Analysis, Theme, Rhyme

Robert Herrick calls all the dresses ‘art’ and by that he means artificial. The last couplet goes: “Do more bewitch me than when art/ Is too precise in every part.” By that, he means artificial decorations or the adornments prepared in order to look beautiful fail to win his heart.

By pointing out the mistakes in a lady’s dress, Herrick appreciates the spontaneity more than perfection. There is no mention of any woman or lady but by explaining the appearance in particular dresses, we can make out that Herrick is talking about a woman. For example, a petticoat is women’s dress and stomacher is also worn particularly by women.

What is the Theme of Robert Herrick’s Poem Delight in Disorder?

Regarding the theme of Robert Herrick’s poem Delight in Disorder, we can find an appreciation of spontaneity, freedom, feminine beauty, etc.

Herrick finds spontaneous actions more delightful than a carefully designed perfection. Another theme of this poem is freedom. Spontaneity means what one is likely to do without being influenced by other forces and that is definitely a form of freedom. The poet also has something to say about feminine beauty. For him, a woman wearing precisely decorated clothes is not as alluring as the ones who are careless about their looks.

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