"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Poetry: "Delight In Disorder" by Robert Herrick

I haven't done enough poetry.  I need to step up on that.  I used to keep a spiral notebook filled with copied handwritten poems I wanted to keep on my fingertips.  Certainly they were among my favorites.  I believe I started that notebook back in college days, which now is some thirty years ago.  I have it right here in front of me.  It has a red cover and it's kind of beaten around the edges.  As I flip through I see it's about two thirds full.  I haven't added too many recently. 

Let me pick one to share, "Delight In Disorder" by the seventeenth century English poet, Robert Herrick.  Herrick was a strange man.  He never married, took holy orders in I assume the Anglican Church, and yet wrote extensively about women and love.  You would think he was a sort of playboy, but there's no evidence that any of the women he mentions ever existed.  Nonetheless he wrote beautiful little poems, thousands of them, with a very retrained use of metaphor.  He mostly delineates and speaks directly.  He lets the language speak for itself, and at his best he maneuvers the words so that they reflect the meaning.  And he keeps a very nice rhythm.  Here's this wonderful poem:

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
Ribbons 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.

The poem is about what it says: beauty is best with a bit of disorder.  There is a metaphor in this poem; the woman stands for art, and the delineation of the woman's careless dress dramatises that art is best when not perfect.  Notice how with each detail his emotions rev up ("tempestuous petticoat") until finally his imagination leaps into seeing "a wild civility."  The narrator is most certainly "bewitched."  He thinks the woman is wild because her shoelace is untied!  LOL.

Here's a very nice reading of the poem.  Hope you enjoyed it.



  1. I am impressed that you kept your notebook! I have lost mostly everything from my younger life. Too much moving around and general upheaval.

    I would probably drive the author of this lovely poem quite wild, considering that I am rather untidy. lol.