Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341

The themes of the poem "To Penshurst" include an extolling of the qualities of hospitality, benevolence towards those who are lower in the social order, and harmony with nature. The poem begins with a contrast between Penshurst and other estates, which are showier in nature. Jonson writes about all the things that Penhurst does not have, including "polished pillars, or a roof of gold." Instead, the estate is blessed with the bounties of nature, including ample game that winds up on the family's table. In passages that have some of the marks of pastoral odes, the poet writes about the beauty and productivity of the lands around the estate. It's clear that it is a harmonious place that is favored by nature. It's as if the moral correctness of the house is rewarded by the gods of nature, who favor the family with agricultural and animal products.

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In the second half of the poem, the poet extols the moral and religious rightness of the house. The walls that fence off the estate are not symbols of exclusion but of inclusion, as people from the surrounding countryside come to the estate willingly to bear gifts. Once there, they are treated to the largesse of the house and to the generosity of the owners, who do not spare any food in hosting their guests. Even King James and his son were welcomed to the estate when they got lost while hunting nearby. Everything is physically and morally right in the house, in which the lady of the estate is an expert in running the house smoothly. In addition, the children are properly schooled in religion and morality by watching the examples of their fine parents. The house is in order physically, and is blessed by nature because it sets a moral example. The values of hospitality, benevolence, moral rectitude, and order reign in both the house and the lands surrounding it, and the poet implies that nature has bestowed its blessings on the house because the people of the house are moral exemplars.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

The themes of the poem are largely political. Jonson uses Penshurst as an epitome of proper social order, a social order that relies on harmony and love rather than competition or coercion. This harmony is found, tellingly, in a rural, not an urban, environment and is emphasized by the animals’ willingness to be killed for the table and the fact that the pikes do not eat their own kind. The ruthlessness of court life has been left far behind.

Jonson’s diagram for an ideal community, and by extension commonwealth, requires a delicate balance of tradition and practicality. Human decency is essential to the social contract, and so it is significant that the walls of Penshurst were “reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan,” and no one would see them pulled down. In return for the bounty provided the lord, the lord and his family provided an example to the...

(The entire section contains 767 words.)

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