Herrick versus Hopkins: Do We Need a Creator for Something to be Beautiful?

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Robert Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” and Gerard Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” both emphasize the beauty found in deranged or simplistic objects, which are often overlooked for more structured forms of artwork. “Pied Beauty” is about expressing gratitude and praise towards God for the beautiful, dappled (or obscure) objects in nature. This praise makes sense given that Hopkins was a Jesuit priest who lived in the Victorian era, which valued Christianity.

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Although Hopkins assigns beauty to dappled things, according to him their beauty seems to be partly, if not wholly, contingent upon God and moral qualities in addition to their imperfect physical qualities. Herrick, however, seems to not be terribly influenced by Christianity or other religious themes when speaking about beauty. “Delight in Disorder” assigns beauty to objects solely based upon their physical qualities, particularly their imprecisions. Herrick wants us to see disorder as beautiful and pleasurable, not detestable. Thus, Hopkins and Herrick seem to be aligned on disorder or imprecision as one of beauty’s fundamental components.

This bias towards imperfection is seen in their respective poems as they refrain from utilizing a traditional sonnet and opt for unconventional styles of poetry. Additionally, both of the poems present themselves as disorderly on the surface, but their use of various poetic devices allows their poems to flow gracefully amidst chaos. Despite their similarities, Hopkins’ reliance on God and moral qualities as evidence that dappled things are beautiful leads us to question whether he considers imprecise objects to be beautiful on their own merit. Although Hopkins and Herrick both agree that imprecise objects are beautiful, it will be shown that they fail toconcur that imprecision, on its own merit, is sufficient for beauty.

Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” is a curtal sonnet, which is a sonnet of 11 lines where the last line is a tail (or half a line). This is an interesting twist on the standard fourteen-line sonnet and its rebellion from the norm represents Hopkins’ idea that dappled objects are beautiful and deserve appreciation. Thus, the form of the poem cements its underlying idea.

Additionally, this curtal sonnet possesses an orderly rhyme scheme of abcabc dbcdc, which alludes to the inherent perfection found within God and all of His creations, particularly his dappled ones. This allusion to God makes sense given that Hopkins praises God at the beginning and ending lines of the poem. Thus, from an outsider’s perspective, “Pied Beauty” seems to be contrarian by going against the standard sonnet. This may lead one to believe that it is unsteady and misguided.

Yet, due to its tidy rhyme scheme, the poem also presents itself as steady and guided by an underlying pattern or rhythm. This rhythm is further illustrated through the use of plentiful alliteration in the poem which operate in their standard use, “With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim” (9)  or in pairs, such as "couple-coulour," "fresh-firecoal," and "fathers-forth" (2, 4, 10). The discrepancy seen between the chaos of the curtal sonnet and the tidy rhyme scheme and rhythmic, playful alliteration is Hopkin’s way of asserting that order can be found within disorder.

This balance between chaos and order is exemplified through Hopkins’ reference and praise towards God (an orderly being) as the underlying harbinger of an untidy world. This reverence is seen in the first and last lines of the poem, “Glory be to God for dappled things” (1) and “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him” (10-11). Thus, Hopkins’ poem about beauty presents itself as a poem about balance. Beautiful things are balanced: their outward shell is smeared, while their inner core is pure and divine.

By including praising remarks towards God at the beginning and end of “Pied Beauty,” Hopkins envelops the poem’s descriptions of dappled creations in an air of reverence and awe for God. Yet, the final praise of an unchanging God is contradictory to the poem, where Hopkins goes out of his way to speak about the beauty found in diversity.

This stark contrast allows him to unite two apparently unrelated things: an unalterable God and dappled things. This unification of opposites is also reflected in the juxtaposition of an orderly rhyme scheme with the disordered, curtal sonnet. Further, these comparisons allow Hopkins to highlight God’s power and ability to make disordered objects appear beautiful.

After introducing reverence for God in the beginning of the first stanza, Hopkins gives examples of dappled things in lines 2-6, such as a “skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow” (2) or “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings” (4).

In the second stanza, the poem reverses the trend seen in the first stanza, as it begins by characterizing the dappled objects and ending by praising God for creating these things. Hopkins makes it obvious that all things begin and end with God, and therefore all things don’t derive their beauty solely from physicality but possess a moral or spiritual dimension to them. This moral dimension is also evident in Hopkins’ description of dappled things in the second stanza.

Terms such as “counter,” “fickle,” and “sweet” are not merely mechanistic adjectives but moralistic ones as well. As an example, the word “sweet” can indicate that something has a pleasant taste characteristic of sugar or honey (physical quality) or it can mean that a person is nice or pleasant to be around (moral quality). Thus, it seems that beauty fails to emerge solely from physical imprecision. Rather, a combination of physical imprecision and intrinsic or moralistic strength (derived from a divine source) is what makes an object beautiful. Beauty is fathered-forth out of God’s will.

Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” is composed of 14 lines and seven couplets, but it fails to follow all the exact rules of the sonnet form by straying away from a formal rhyme scheme. The couplets are composed of near rhymes such as “thrown” and “distraction,” (3, 4) and true rhymes like “dress” and “wantonness” (1, 2).

This technique of contrasting near and true rhymes is reminiscent of Herrick’s appreciation for imperfection, hence the title of the poem “Delight in Disorder.” Additionally, this contrast in rhyme forces the reader to change the pronunciation of the near rhymes into true rhymes in order to maintain the fluidity of the poem. This contrast technique refers to a larger theme of the poem in which Herrick prods the reader to reframe their negative perceptions of disordered objects.

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This shift in perception allows the reader to perceive these obscure things in a state of beauty and order, rather than disarray. The poem is also composed of internal rhyme between certain words such as the following, “I see a wild civility” (12, emphasis added) or “A winning wave, deserving note” (9, emphasis added). The internal rhyme presented provides the reader with a sense of intrinsic consistency within the poem.

Once again, from the outside, the poem presents itself as disordered because of the contrast of near and slant rhymes during the couplets. However, on the inside, the poem is consistent and free flowing because of the internal rhymes used. An additional example of contrast in “Delight in Disorder” is the use of oxymorons such as “sweet disorder” (1) and “wild civility” (12). This was done to associate positive ideas or things with disordered ones and thereby change one’s gloomy attitude surrounding chaos. Thus, Herrick uses external rhyme, internal rhyme, and oxymorons as methods of demonstrating the underlying beauty of extrinsically disordered objects.

“Delight in Disorder” presents us with the theme that beauty is most prominent in chaotic objects. As an example, from the last four lines of the poem:

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. (11-14)

Here, Herrick is telling us that a loose shoestring is more enticing and beautiful than art, which is fastidious and forced. These qualities are expressed in the end rhymes of each couplet. The disordered shoestring couplet is composed of near rhymes, while the precise art couplet is composed of true rhymes. Thus, the nature of the rhyme (near or true) fits the nature of the object (disordered or ordered). An additional example is seen in the first four lines (two couplets) of the poem:

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction; (1-4)

The near rhymes occur in lines 3-4, while the true rhymes occur in lines 1-2. Herrick caps off the beginning and ending of his poem with couplets composed of true rhymes. This may be done to present the poem as externally consistent even though it has many internal inconsistencies with its near rhymes on other couplets. Thus, the techniques used in the poem reflect the poem’s major theme: beauty is most visible in disorder or, put another way, disorder enhances the intrinsic beauty of an object.

Robert Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” and Gerard Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” both emphasize rugged objects for their beauty. Although Hopkins sees beauty in “dappled things,” their ability to captivate him seems to be highly dependent on God and moral values. Would the same object still be beautiful if it was made by Satan? Doubtful. In contrast, Herrick fails to mention that beauty is dependent on divine creation or an intrinsic moral value. Instead, he concentrates on how physical disorder can illuminate beauty.

Therefore, although both poets make use of sonnets which diverge from the standard and use rhyme to elucidate continuity and flow within the poems, they do so for fundamentally different reasons. Herrick and Hopkins are divided as to what constitutes beauty. Hopkins’ reliance on God and moral qualities for support that dappled things are beautiful leads us to conclude that imprecise objects are not beautiful on their own merit. Thus, Hopkins and Herrick are not aligned on the idea that imprecision, on its own merit, is sufficient for beauty.

Works Cited

Herrick, Robert. “Delight in Disorder.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 6th ed., edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy. Norton, 2018, pp. 376. 

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Pied Beauty.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 6th ed., edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy. Norton, 2018, pp. 1222-1223. 


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