Robert Herrick, in his poem “Delight in Disorder,” describes a narrator’s attraction to a woman’s style of clothing, and not to her physicality. Meticulously noting every detail of her dress, he states that he finds more appeal in her disarray than in the extreme precision of the societal conception of beauty. As in most Renaissance lyric poems, courtly love is the vehicle of a metaphor for a higher attainment. This attainment is unification, a transcendence of the infatuation between a man and a woman and a climbing of the platonic ladder to divine love. The poem is a response to this theme.
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness.
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distractïon:
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher;
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.
The poem consists of fourteen lines in one stanza, written in iambic tetrameter. The first nine lines describe the confused dress of an unnamed woman. The last three explains the “wild civility” which the narrator finds more attractive than “when art is too precise.” The Platonic Ideal describes an abstract world of perfection: the divine cosmic principle of the universe of which the mundane is only a reflection, or the Logos. This perfection is yearned for and realized through love and the perfect personification of the Logos in the beloved; however, it appears as if the author has a contrasting idea.
The narrator states that he sees a wild civility in the disorder, a perfect imperfection. If physical reality is a reflection of the numinous, then the imperfections of this reality must be of divine intention. If this world is to serve any divine purpose, then its designer must have fashioned it to his own satisfaction. Thus any imperfection is meant to be, and is perfect. This, to the narrator, seems to be a more beautiful and accurate ideology than the platonic thinking of his time. To give in to this wantonness whose dress is disorderly is to surrender to the nature of reality.