What is the poem "To Penhurst" about?
What is the poem "To Penshurst" about?
"To Penshurst" is a country house poem, a genre that emerged in the seventeenth century to praise country estates. This poem describes the natural beauty and bounty, the hospitality and the moral order of Penshurst, the home of the Sidneys, a literary and aristocratic family.
In the poem, nature, which reflects God's order, is preferred to the artifice of a grand house. The Sidney house is not "built to envious show," nor does it boast "marble," "polished pillars," or a "roof of gold." Instead, Jonson celebrates the estate for its "better marks" or higher attributes:
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Nature here is rich, beautiful and bountiful, and as critic Raymond Williams describes in The Country and the City, "To Penshurst" reflects a ruling class ideology that obscures the real labor of the rural life, replacing it with a fantasy that the work is easy because fish jump out of the water in their eagerness to be caught and "every child" can reach the fruit to pick it:
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,As loath the second draught or cast to stay,Officiously at first themselves betray;Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on landBefore the fisher, or into his hand.Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours.The early cherry, with the later plum,Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come;The blushing apricot and woolly peachHang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
the same beer and bread, and selfsame wine,This is his lordship’s shall be also mine,And I not fain to sit (as some this dayAt great men’s tables), and yet dine away.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal.
His children thy great lord may call his own,A fortune in this age but rarely known.
"Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair."
"To crown thy open table, doth provideThe purpled pheasant with the speckled side"
"Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat,Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat"
"With other edifices, when they seeThose proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells."