Introduction to Literature

Poetic Variations

In the following piece, seventeenth-century cavalier poet Robert Herrick slightly breaks strict conventions of poetic technique within most of the couplets (pairs of rhyming lines) in order to illustrate, in subtle ways, his larger point. In other words, he intentionally screws up the rhyme or the meter, only barely, here and there. Try to identify where he introduces each variation and then determine the overall purpose of his practices in the context of this poem.

Delight in Disorder

A sweet disorder in the dress

Kindles in clothes a wantonness.

A lawn1 about the shoulders thrown                   1 linen scarf

Into a fine distractiòn:

An erring2 lace, which here and there                   2 wandering

Enthralls the crimson stomacher3;                       3 lower bodice

A cuff neglectful, and thereby

Ribbons to flow confusedly;

A winning wave, deserving note,

In the tempestuous petticoat;

A careless shoestring, in whose tie

I see a wild civility:

Do more bewitch me than when art

Is too precise in every part.

Robert Herrick, "Delight in Disorder." In The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. I. 5th ed. NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1986: 1322.

Introduction to Literature