The Country House Poem Genre Essay

1812 words - 7 pages

The country- house poem developed into a literary genre in the early decades of the seventeenth- century. Aemilia Lanyer's, `The description of Cooke- ham', and Ben Jonson's, `To Penshurst' namely represent the small genre which flourished so briefly. These poems are much more than domestic architecture and are more than simple exercises in praising and pleasing a wealthy patron and the readership at large. In country- house poetry, poets use the conjunction of the ideal family (the patron's) and the ideal site (the estate and surrounding areas in which the patron and his/her family live) as a means of reflecting on social values, the nature of the good life, and the ways in which other households fall short of the mark. The country- house poem, in other words, can be a vehicle of social criticism as well as of praise. Lanyer and Jonson celebrate great places and the happiness that they enjoyed their; finding an Eden is truly rare, but the households survive in literature as paradises in their own right.

Jonson was well documented as having aspirations to rise from lower rank to higher; to be part of and have influence on the court circle; to claim friendship with those of high birth and chronicle their virtues and above all to gain from his patrons' the authority to speak for his culture. This information can be paralled in what we know about Lanyer, they are almost exact contemporaries, intricately linked in literary study of the genre. Lanyer was one of the very few published women poets of the Renaissance. Her single volume of poems `Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum' was published in 1611 and contained a series of dedicatory poems to patronesses, praising them as a community of contemporary good women. The final poem of ten, `The description of Cooke- ham' was written in honour of Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland. As a county- house poem, `Cooke- ham' is interesting in its female adaptation, rather than appropriation of a male language and should be compared to Jonson's better-known celebration of the Sidney family estate in `To Penshurst'. This poem was published as one part of the 1616 collection `Workes'.

Lanyer memorialises her time with Margaret and her daughter Anne Clifford at the estate of Cookham Dean, Her parents died when Lanyer was still a child and she was fostered to different families on numerous occasions. Internal evidence of her poetry proves this occurred, she definitely resided at Cookham for a time as did the Clifford's'. `The description of Cooke- ham' was written between February 1609 and October 1610, Lanyer drew on classical generic features for its construction. She used iambic pentameter throughout the book of poetry and also the conventions of pastoral poetry. Jonson chose to create in verse his belief in moral good attained and sustained in society, he makes no attempt to be completely accurate in his descriptions as he idealises life at Penshurst. He simplifies accounts of the country peoples' attitude...

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