Robert Herrick, “Delight in Disorder”
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.
~ ~ ~
This one’s from 1648. Yeah, look at the cool guy with his 362-year-old poetry. Seriously though, I really like this little poem and I’ll tell you why. To me this poem perfectly describes poetry itself. Poetry is an ancient thing, originally born from earth and pure emotion, out of the wild. It is humanity’s oldest way to explore and think about the natural world, our place in it, and the mysterious forces that we feel govern it. But poetry is also an art of kings and scholars; and this duality is shown here. “Sweet disorder,” “fine distraction,” and of course – so beautifully said – “wild civility.” Wild civility. If that is not poetry’s true identity I don’t know what is.
And Herrick was right to choose the word “bewitch” when he describes what this wild civility does to him, because poetry, as I said before, is about the mysterious forces – about magic. And I don’t mean magic in the cheesy, is this your card way – I mean magic in the old school way. It’s hard to say what I mean…like Tom Robbins said, “using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef.” But I think you understand just the same. Poetry is essentially a catalog of the world’s mysteries.