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Ben Jonson’s poem, “Still to Be Neat,” and Robert Herrick’s poem, “Delight in Disorder,” both argue the themes of naturalness. While both poems have similar themes, their approach to the subject of art are opposite. Jonson uses a discreet approach, while Herrick is more up front and lighthearted. The structure, word choice, and diction of each poem helps further their argument of natural beauty. This is significant in showing how Jonson and Herrick’s poems both discuss the beauty in nature and art, and thus showing that being natural and carefree is preferable to meticulous concealment.
The syntax of “Still to Be Neat” and “Delight in Disorder” aid in getting the theme across to the reader. Both poems are in the meter of iambic tetrameter. Stresses on the syllables in the words “dress” and the ‘o’ in “disorder” show, in Herrick’s poem, that the order of the dress is the main argument of the poem. The syllables in the words “neat” and “dressed” are stressed to show the central subject of the poem. Jonson’s poem is two stanzas while Herrick’s poem is only one stanza. In the first stanza of Jonson’s poem, the speaker describes a woman with her makeup on and the second stanza describes a vision of the woman without her makeup. The single stanza of Herrick’s poem is a continuous thought that cannot be broken up. This shows that the speaker cannot think about anything else except the woman of the poem. Herrick’s one stanza consists of 14 lines that describe the “sweet disorder” the speaker mentions in line 1. The first 12 lines are very stretched rhymes that are a little chaotic. These lines represent the chaos of the clothes. Jonson’s poem is 12 lines that has a weird rhyme at the beginning of the poem. The words “dressed” and “feast” do not rhyme as well as the rest of the rhymes in the poem. This could be stressing that the attention to details, in writing or in dressing, is not always important. Each poem consists of rhyming pairs throughout the whole poem. The consistent pairs represent the perfection women believe they must achieve. The playfulness of the rhymes present to the reader how Herrick and Jonson prefer that the attention to getting dressed should not be so serious. This is significant in showing that the structure of the poem adds to the themes of natural and carefree beauty.
Herrick’s approach to the theme is more mischievous when being compared to Jonson’s poem. “Delight in Disorder” is a cavalier poem, which justifies the use of playful alliteration such as “winning wave” (line 9). Line nine states ” Ribbons to flow confusedly; / A winning wave, deserving note.” The alliteration gives the poem a lighthearted tone. The word “winning” means to conquer and “wave” means to sway to and fro (“winning,” “wave,” Oxford English Dictionary). The ribbons are waving in a neglectful manner that the speaker enjoys. This carefree manner can be seen throughout the whole poem. Words such as “distraction,” “neglectful,” “confusedly,” “careless,” and “wild,” describe the disorder of the clothes within the poem (lines 4, 7, 8, 11, 12). The words “sweet,” “fine,” “winning,” “deserving,” and “tempestuous,” describe the delight the speaker views within all the disorder (lines 1, 4, 9, 10). The whole poem is “a sweet disorder” due to its silly rhymes and its perfect rhyme at the end of the poem (line 1 and PJ Emery). The chaotic rhymes represent the disorder and the last couplet represents the sweetness of the disarray.
Herrick’s playfulness reveals itself in the lines that describe pieces of clothing. The clothing brings the reader’s attention to body parts. For example, the speaker states ” A lawn about the shoulders thrown/ Into a fine distractioÌâ‚¬n” (lines 3-4). The piece of linen attracts the speaker to stare at the woman’s shoulders. The linen is not carefully put in place on the shoulders of the woman, but rather “thrown” about in a carefree manner. This use of heedlessness attracts the speaker the most because it is not precise. The word “distractioÌâ‚¬n” is a distraction itself due to its spelling. It is a play with words that give the poem its good-humored tone. The speakers association with clothes and body parts give the poem a sexual tone. The speaker states ” A careless shoestring…/Do more bewitch me than when art/ Is too precise in every part” (lines 11, 13-14). Carelessly placed pieces of clothing attract the speaker to the woman. He would rather see a chaotic mess of clothes thrown on rather than a neatly placed outfit. The negligence of the outfit is what attracts the speaker. This is significant in showing that the speaker feels the disorder in dressing is what makes the woman beautiful.
Jonson’s approach to the theme is less upfront. The speaker urges his love to show him her natural beauty rather than the facade she puts on every second of the day. The word “still” is throughout the whole first stanza. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word still means always and continuously without change. The speaker uses this word when saying “Still to neat, still to dressed/ As you were going to a feast” (lines 1-2). Being over-dressed all the time is not what attracts the speaker. The speaker states “Give me a look, give me a face/ That makes simplicity a grace,” which urges the speaker’s love to reveal her true beauty. He prefers the less complicated face over the one with makeup that hides the truth. Phrases and words such as “simplicity,” “loosely flowing,” “free” and “sweet neglect” are what attract the speaker the most (lines 8, 9, 10). These words describe a carefree approach to life that the speaker would favor his woman to live. Thus, showing that simplicity is preferable than forced beauty.
The speaker of “Still to Be Neat” does appreciate the physical appearance of a woman. In the last three lines of the poem the speaker says “Such sweet neglect more taketh me/ Than all adulteries of art./ They strike mine eyes, but not my heart” (lines 10-12). Although the makeup is appealing feature on the surface it does not affect the speaker’s heart, which really matters. The speaker is not satisfied with “art’s hid causes” because they do not reveal the true nature of the woman (line 5). Physical beauty is not what the speaker seeks but seeks a deeper connection. This is significant in showing that beauty is not all it takes to win a man’s heart.
Both poems discuss art. Herrick refers to the art of dressing. Jonson refers to the art of dressing as well as the art of adultery. Jonson poems for a sexual tone in line 11 when the speaker states that the negligence of the clothes attract him more than “the adulteries of art” (line 11). This line shows how much power the art of dressing has on the speaker. Dressing playfully can prevent the speaker from cheating. Herrick finds a simple piece of clothing “tempestuous” due to its confusing manner (line 10). Both poets display the themes of nature and art are in association with clothing throughout each poem.
The art of dressing should not be scrupulous order but a relaxed mess. Both Herrick and Jonson show in their poems that art is better when it is natural rather than concealing it to look perfect. Herrick takes a more mischievous route, while Jonson is more discreet but still shows a lighthearted side. Each poets approach varies but the message of natural beauty is consistent in both poems.
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