The readings for today focus on the major poet, Ben Jonson, whose classical style of poetry
influenced a school of poetry that came to be known as Cavalier. Richard Lovelace's works
belong to the Cavalier school, and the poetry selected represents the ideals embraced by
the loyal subjects of the king. Waller's poetry shares affinities with these poets in his
classical style and cavalier subject matter.
Once again, I have asked you to read more poems than we will actually discuss in class. If
you have questions about the poems not discussed, please raise them in your posts or ask questions
about them in class.
For this class we will focus on Jonson's "To Penshurst" which is important because it helps
to inaugurate the genre of the countryhouse poem, and because it expresses an ideal of aristocratic
bounty and hospitality that would become legendary.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
1. Ben Jonson: "To Penshurst"
Be sure to summarize the poem. If you have difficulty paraphrasing any of the couplets,
please draw our attention to the lines in class. The first step to reading poetry is
understanding the denotative meaning of the lines. You may be happy to hear that the
poets we are reading today aim for greater clarity in their poetry than last week's poets.
Jonson wrote "To Penshurst" in honor of his patron's household. What is the point of celebrating
a house in a poem? Why might this be a particularly important site (especially given the
The poem can be broken down into six separate parts for discussion:
Lines 1-8 describe what the house is not. Who is "thou" and "thee" in the poem?
What impression do these opening lines make? What
expectation do they raise? What do they suggest about the owner of the estate?
The closing couplets suggest a comparison between Penshurst and other grander houses or estates.
What is the point of the comparison? How does this bring closure to the poem?
Lines 8-44 - description of the grounds. What does the poet choose to highlight on the grounds
of Penshurst? How does he describe them? What do you make of the birds, game and fish willing
to be caught and eaten?
Lines 45-75 - ideal of aristocratic hospitality. What social exchanges take place in Penshurst?
How do these exchanges reflect on the owner of the estate? What is his role in the community?
What qualities does the poet ascribe to him? Note the appearance of the first-person singular.
How is the poet treated at Penshurst?
Lines 76-88 - King James' visit. How does Penshurst recieve the king? What or who makes this
possible? Why is it significant?
Lines 89-98 - Praise for the lady and children of the house. Why is it significant that the lady
is chaste and the lord can depend that his children are his own? In what sense is this a compliment?
Note the form -- iambic pentameter couplets -- and the style -- classical, smooth, graceful -- and
the tone -- laudatory, celebratory. How does this poem compare in form, style and tone, with
Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" or Lovelace's "To Lucasta"? How are these things
appropriate for the subject and purpose of Jonson's poem?
According to the poem, what values does Penshurst embody? Why are these important (politically,
2. Lovelace and Waller
How would you describe the style of Lovelace's poetry? How does it reflect the Cavalier values
for women, wine and royalism?
Waller was praised for the smoothness (lyrical, muscial, not harsh) and regularity (even measures
and regular patterns of meters) of his verse. Do you see evidence of that
in "The Story of Phoebus and Daphne Applied"? What is the subject of that poem? What does it suggest
about the purpose of poetry?
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