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To Penshurst

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To Penshurst

If someone described your home in a poem, do you think it would accurately reflect you? The English poet Ben Jonson (1572‐1637) established an entire genre of poetry dedicated to complimenting people by describing their country homes. Jonson's poem, “To Penshurst,” pays homage to a wealthy family through a description of their medieval country estate. The speaker uses personification to bring the land to life and to reflect the lives of its generous owners.

To Penshurst, Penshurst Palace, StudySmarter

In “To Penshurst,” the speaker describes the medieval English estate Penshurst Palace.

Wikimedia Commons

"To Penshurst" Information Overview
Poet: Ben Jonson (1572‐1637)
Year Published: 1616
Type of Poem:Country house poem
Rhyme Scheme: Rhyming couplets
Meter: Iambic pentameter
Tone:Enthusiastic
Literary/Poetic DevicesApostrophe, alliteration, assonance, tone, allusion, imagery, personification, and imagery
Themes: Nature's abundance, hospitality, and generosity

“To Penshurst”: Context

“To Penshurst” is a country house poem written by the English Renaissance poet and dramatist Ben Jonson (1572‐1637). Jonson wrote the poem to complement the artistic, aristocratic Sidney family through a description of their country home called Penshurst Place. Robert Sidney, the 1st Earl of Leicester, was a poet and patron of the arts. Jonson visited Sidney and his family in 1610. He wrote the poem “To Penshurst” as a gift to the family. It was common at this time for poets to write poetry in honor of wealthy patrons to gain artistic sponsorship.

Robert Sidney was the younger brother of Sir Philip Sidney, the renowned English Elizabethan poet, soldier, and scholar.

A country house poem is a poem in which the poet compliments a wealthy friend or patron by describing their country house. Country house poems were prominent in the early 1600s in England.

Ben Jonson's poem, “To Penshurst,” was published in 1616. It is seen as the model poem for the county house genre of poetry. The poem describes the medieval estate known as Penshurst Place, which was built in 1341 in Kent—a county outside London, England. King Edward VI granted the estate to the Sidney family in 1552. In the poem, Jonson describes how Robert Sidney's country estate is a reflection of the bounty of nature and the generosity of the family.

To Penshurst, Kent Castle and Scenery, StudySmarter

Kent, England is full of castles and country houses. It is known for its waterways, lush landscapes, and natural beauty, which are vividly depicted in Jonson's poetry.

Pixabay

“To Penshurst”: Poem

Below are the first 14 lines of the poem, which introduce Penshurst Place.

While reading the beginning of the poem, think about the questions: 1) What does the speaker say Penshurst is not? 2) What makes Penshurst so special?

Line"To Penshurst" by Ben Jonson
1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.10.11.12.13.14.
Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport;
Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At his great birth where all the Muses met.

“To Penshurst”: Summary

The poem “To Penshurst” is written as a single stanza of 102 lines. The poem can be roughly broken up into three main focuses: 1) the beauty and bounty of nature, 2) the generosity and hospitality at Penshurst, and 3) the righteousness of the Sidney family.

The Beauty and Bounty of Nature (Lines 1 to 43)

The poem “To Penshurst” begins with the speaker describing how Penshurst is not built with showy “polished pillars, or a roof of gold” (3). Its beauty and value are not boasted through its exteriors. Rather, Penshurst's beauty and value come from the fertile natural beauty that surrounds it. Jonson writes that the joy of Penshurst is found in “better marks of soil, or air, / Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair” (7 to 8).

The speaker vividly describes the nature of the Penshurst estate—its mountains, trees, rivers, and abundant animals. Jonson paints a picture of an Eden-like paradise. He uses references to Greek and Roman mythology to emphasize the mystical, majestic quality of this superfluous land.

The speaker naturally transitions into describing how the animals and livestock on the property are abundant and eager to feed people. He describes “Fat aged carps that run into thy net” and “Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land / Before the fisher, or into his hand” (33, 37-38).

The Generosity and Hospitality at Penshurst (Lines 44 to 75)

Ben Jonson describes Penshurst as a happy place for the common people. He suggests that the walls of the property were not built by slaves, but rather by paid workers who take pride in the place. The people have an abundance of food and stable work. They bring food to share and “salute / Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit” (49 to 50). The common people have respect for their lord and lady, who are generous with them and do not look down on them for not being wealthy.

The abundance and generosity of the land reflect the generosity and hospitality of the Sidney family to their townspeople and guests. Jonson describes how guests at the Sidney estate have an abundance of good food. The estate is a comfortable place where everything is provided for the guests, and there is more than enough to eat.

To Penshurst, Dinner Feast, StudySmarter

In the poem, the abundance of food the Sidneys offer their guests reflects both their own generosity and the generosity of the fertile land they live on.

Pixabay

The Righteousness of the Sidney Family (Lines 76 to 102)

Ben Jonson describes the Sidneys as righteous hosts and landowners. He writes about how King James and his son one day wandered over to the Penshurst estate while on a hunting trip. They were welcomed by Lady Sidney's "high housewifery” (85).

The speaker depicts the Sidney family as the ideal picture of virtue. He describes Lady Sidney as “noble, fruitful, chaste,” and notes that all of Robert Sidney's children are his own (90). This suggests his faithfulness to his wife, which was uncommon at the time. The Sidney's children are well-educated, and most importantly, they pray. The Sidneys are the perfect example of a virtuous, generous Christian family.

While most wealthy landowning families built their estates to show off their social status, the Sidneys use Penshurst as a place to live and serve the community. Jonson ends the poem with the lines, “Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else, / May say their lords have build, but thy lord dwells” (101 to 102). Penshurst is different from other country homes because the Sidneys have made a proper home for themselves, their guests, and the townspeople here. It is a righteous home in which God dwells.

“To Penshurst”: Analysis of Form

“To Penshurst” is a poem written in a single stanza of 102 lines. The poem is written in highly structured iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets. Ben Jonson uses the single block of text to tie together an abundance of flowing imagery regarding Penshurst's natural beauty, the hospitality of the home, and the warmth and generosity of the Sidney family. Jonson's long poem of flowing words emphasizes this idea of abundance, which carries throughout the poem like the river depicted.

“To Penshurst”: Meter

The poem is written in iambic pentameter, meaning each line is composed of ten syllables in an alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. Iambic pentameter was a common form of meter used in traditional English poetry of Ben Johnson's time. The use of iambic pentameter lends a highly consistent rhythm to the poem, creating a consistency in the flow of Jonson's words.

“Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of goldThou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told

(1‐4)

Try to read the poem aloud, emphasizing the five stresses on alternating syllables. What effect do you think the use of highly consistent iambic pentameter lends to the reading of the poem?

“To Penshurst”: Rhyme Scheme

“To Penshurst” is written in a specific type of rhyming couplets, known as heroic couplets. Therefore, the rhyme scheme follows an AABB pattern. The use of heroic couplets pairs Jonson's ideas and lends an air of importance to the poem's reading. The heroic couplets project the significance of 'Penshurst,' as well as the Sidney family's role as a model ruling family.

A heroic couplet is a form of rhyming couplet made up of two lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter. Heroic couplets were traditionally used to depict themes of heroism in epic and narrative poetry.

“To Penshurst”: Literary Devices

The poem “To Penshurst” uses an abundance of literary devices to present the abundance of nature. Some of the most prominent literary devices used include apostrophe, alliteration, assonance, tone, allusion, imagery, personification, and imagery.

Apostrophe

“To Penshurst” is an example of apostrophe, as Ben Jonson writes to the personified Penshurst estate. Jonson uses apostrophe to convey personalized praise and admiration of Robert Sidney's family through the description of their estate.

Apostrophe is the address of a person who is not present or the address of a personified object.

Alliteration, Assonance, and Tone

Ben Jonson uses alliteration, emphasizing the “P” sound to quickly carry the line of poetry forward and remind the reader of the Penshurst estate. Jonson uses evident alliteration of the “P” sound in line 29, which describes a “painted partridge.” The repetition of the “P” sound lends a quickened pace to the reading, supporting Jonson's enthusiastic tone.

While the term “purpled pheasant” in line 28 uses a repetition of the letter “P,” it is not technically alliteration because the “P” in “purpled” has a different sound than the "Ph” in “pheasant.”

Ben Jonson also plays with sound by using assonance to emphasize particular vowel sounds. In the opening lines of the poem, Jonson uses the repetition of the long “O” sound to create a suave, exaggerated air of importance. It is as if someone who over-annunciates to sound important is reading the poem. This use of assonance mimics the aristocratic air of the estate Jonson is describing to explain to readers what Penshurst is not. It is not an uppity place that boasts and brags and looks down on the lower class. Rather, it serves all people.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds among nearby words.

“Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told” (1 to 4)

Allusion and Imagery

The poem uses allusions to Greek and Roman mythology to suggest the fertility and otherworldly paradise of nature surrounding Penshurst Place. In line 11 of the poem, Jonson refers to the gods “Pan and Bacchus” (11). Pan is the Greek god of the wild and shepherds, while Bacchus, also known as Dionysus, is the god of wine and vegetation. Both gods are associated with fertility, emphasizing the imagery of the fertility of the land.

The speaker uses vivid visual imagery to paint a picture of the mountains and trees under which the “Muses met” (14). The Muses are an allusion to the nine Greek goddesses known to inspire art, poetry, and science. Through this imagery and allusion, Jonson suggests that the bountiful beauty of nature is a great poetic inspiration.

“Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort,

Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,

Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;

That taller tree, which of a nut was set

At his great birth where all the Muses met.”

(10 to 14)

Ben Jonson also refers to “dryads” and “satyrs” in the poem (10 and 17). Dryads are tree nymphs and satyrs are woodland gods. Why do you think Jonson alludes to these things in his poetry?

Personification and Hyperbole

The poem is built on the personification of nature. Jonson personifies nature to display its growth and abundance while also emphasizing the way it serves humanity. He uses personification and hyperbole, or exaggeration, to describe how the fish run into nets and leap into the hands of the fishers. This implies that there is such an abundance of life at Penshurst that it is almost as if food and resources are jumping into people's laps and require no effort to acquire.

In the example below, Jonson describes a peach as “blushing” and hanging so that “every child” can reach it. This represents how the nature and abundance of food at Penshurst are shared with everyone. It is an ideal place where no one goes hungry and food is readily available. The personification of food making itself available to the people also reflects the generosity of the Sidneys, who share their resources with everyone living on the land. Jonson implies that this is the way things should be.

“The blushing apricot and woolly peach

Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.”(43 to 44)

"To Penshurst": Themes

The main themes in the poem are nature's abundance, generosity, and hospitality.

Nature's Abundance

In the poem, nature is depicted as lush and overflowing in its bounty. Nature is fully alive and defines the true beauty of Penshurst Place. The diversity of plants, animals, and the landscape is what makes life at Penshurst so unique. Nature is abundant and is personified as being generous, which reflects the generosity of the Sidney family who resides there.

Generosity and Hospitality

Ben Jonson portrays a generous and hospitable landowning family in the poem to paint a picture of ideal landowners who share their land and resources with those of the lower class. Penshurst is not merely used as a display of the Sidneys' wealth, but it serves as a home for all those who visit and live nearby. The Sidneys are portrayed as the ideal Christian family with educated children who pray, led by faithful, dutiful parents.

Ultimately, it is the Sidneys' generosity and hospitality that makes Penshurst such a notable estate, and nature's abundance aids them in being able to welcome and host guests with such warmth and luxury.

To Penshurst - Key takeaways

  • “To Penshurst” (1616) is a poem written by the English Renaissance poet and dramatist, Ben Jonson.
  • “To Penshurst” is a country house poem written as a gift to the noble, artistic Sidney family.
  • The poem's tone is enthusiastic.
  • The poem features literary devices such as apostrophe, alliteration, assonance, tone, allusion, imagery, personification, and imagery.
  • The main themes of the poem are nature's abundance, generosity, and hospitality.

Frequently Asked Questions about To Penshurst

The poem "To Penshurst" is about the beauty and bounty of nature at the Penshurst estate, and the generosity of the Sidney family who owns it. 

"To Penshurst" is a country house poem, which is a poem that compliments a wealthy friend or patron by describing their country house. Country house poems were prominent in the early 1600s in England. 

God dwells at Penshurst according to Jonson's poem.

Jonson wrote "To Penshurst" as a gift to the Sidney family, who hosted him. Robert Sidney was a wealthy patron of the arts, and it was common at the time for poets to write in honor of wealthy patrons in hopes of getting commissions or patronage. 

Ben Jonson's poem "To Penshurst" is written in a rhyme pattern of rhyming couplets. 

Final To Penshurst Quiz

Question

Who is the author of the poem, 'To Penshurst'?

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Answer

Ben Jonson

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Question

What year was the poem, 'To Penshurst' published? 

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Answer

1616

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Question

What is the tone of the poem? 

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Answer

enthusiastic 

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Question

What type of poem is 'to Penshurst'?

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Answer

A country house poem 

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Who was 'To Penshurst' written for?

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Answer

The Sidney family

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Why was 'To Penshurst' written?

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Answer

As a gift to the Sidney family who hosted Jonson, and to encourage their patronage of his writing. 

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Question

What are some key themes of the poem? 

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Answer

Nature's abundance, hospitality, and generosity. 

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Question

True or False: The speaker says that Penshurst has "polished pillars" and "a roof of gold."

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Answer

False

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Question

What is so special about Penshurst place? 

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Answer

The nature that surrounds it and the generosity of the Sidney family. 

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Question

The speaker's mention of Pan and Bacchus is an example of which literary device? 

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Answer

Allusion

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How does the speaker use apostrophe in the poem? 

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Answer

He is addressing Penshurst as a personified place. 

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Question

Which of the following does the speaker not describe in the poem? 

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Answer

the beaches 

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What meter is the poem written in? 

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Answer

Iambic pentameter

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What kind of rhymes is the poem comprised of? 

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Answer

Heroic couplets

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