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More often than not, lyric poetry of the past often took the role of idealizing the idea of love. There were countless poems written about the perfection of a pure love or the beauty of a woman. However, William Shakespeare’s “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun” (Appendix A) and Robert Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” (Appendix B) are the antitheses to the notion that love has to be faultless. Both poems use diction and imagery to illustrate the singular theme that imperfections are not necessarily negative.


In “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun” the speaker begins with the title line and proceeds to describe, using particular diction, just how imperfect his mistress is. He uses the opposite of the comparisons that one would usually employ to describe a loved one. Reference to the color red, which can symbolize passion, is used not as a positive depiction, but to show how the woman being spoken of is devoid of it. “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” (); “I have seen roses damasked red and white,/ But no such roses see I in her cheeks” (5-6).


Other specific word choices, such as “black wires grow on her head” (4) and “the breath that from my mistress reeks” (8) create a vivid image in ones mind and make the woman seem not only slightly unpleasing to behold, but downright repulsive. The first quoted line about the wires makes one envision someone probably resembling Medusa. Imagery is further used to show the difference between the speaker’s mistress and a goddess “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.” (1).


Yet, at the end the speaker says “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/ As any she, belied with false compare.” (1-14). The diction in these two lines changes the whole tone of the poem into one of utter love and compassion, in stark contrast to the negativity of what was previously written. This shows that unlike those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that the person they’re in love with is not perfect, the speaker of this poem embraces his mistress’ flaws and loves her just the same.


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Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” also makes good use of diction and imagery, but in a manner that is altogether different from Shakespeare’s sonnet. Instead of discussing the woman herself, this speaker concentrates on the disarray of her attire. “A sweet disorder in the dress/ Kindles in clothes a wantonness” (1-). Also, as the title and the first two lines show, the speaker of this poem states right away that this disheveled appearance is what appeals to him. He doesn’t go about pointing out solely the negativity and then at the end state that that’s what interests him as did Shakespeare’s “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun”. The idea of imperfection being something positive is brought up and embraced throughout the poem. Ironic pairs of words such as “sweet disorder” (1), “fine distraction” (4) and “wild civility” (1) are used to emphasize the theme of the poem.


“A winning wave, deserving note,/ In the tempestuous petticoat” (-10) is the epitome of imagery in this poem. The personification of her petticoat brings to mind a wild, jostling skirt. The speaker describes the woman’s garments so clearly that one can actually picture their whimsical disorderliness


An erring lace, which here and there


Enthralls the crimson stomacher


A cuff neglectful, and thereby


Ribbons to flow confusedly; (5-8)


When further considering the two works, it would be safe to say that Herrick’s speaker takes this love of imperfections one step further than Shakespeare’s. The end of the sonnet compares the woman being spoken of to other women and says “I think my love as rare/ As any she,” (1-14) meaning that she is just as good as any other woman. Whereas the speaker in “Delight in Disorder” states “Do more bewitch me than when art/ Is too precise in every part” (1-14). He is saying that one possessing such flaws is not only as good as other women, but even better.


Both Shakespeare’s “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun” and Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder” view the flaws that they describe at length as positive qualities. Imagery and diction are two of the most important literary elements in both these works and intensify the message that is being conveyed. Though these poems were written almost four decades apart, the uncommon and recurring theme of beauty and love found in and enhanced by imperfection is very apparent.





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