E211 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Cynthia Cuevas on Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst"

Published by admin_main on Mon 11 Oct, 2010

"To Penhurst" (pg. 1434 Norton 8th edition)

9. This poem turns upon the distinction Jonson makes at the end between "building" and "dwelling." In what sense is Robert Sidney's estate Penshurst more than a building — how does it exemplify idyllic social relations between people and perfect harmony between the human and the natural?

This poem can be seen as a gift to The Penshurst estate which was home to Sir Robert Sidney in Kent near London, England in 1616. Jonson begins by telling the readers what Penshurst is not. This can be seen in lines 1-5 when he says "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" (pg. 1434). Here he is describing the lack of glamorousness of this estate. He mentions the marble, roof of gold, and even the polished pillars which Penshurst does not have. On line 7 when he says "And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while," he is saying that the more appealing houses attract envy and not admiration like this home does. Penshurst's simplicity is what attracts people and is what brings guests of that home together. This is where Sir Philip Sidney was born, where Sir Robert Sidney's wife gave birth to their child, where cattle eat, and where horses breed. The natural and effortless beauty of this estate makes it more than just a building. Therefore we can say that Penshurst is not just an edifice, it is a home to all. Everyone in this house is treated equally as we can see on lines 48-50 when he says "But all come in, the farmer and the clown,/ And no one empty-handed, to salute/ Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit" (pg. 1435). We can also see an example of this equality in lines 60-64, "With all that hospitality doth know;/ Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat,/ Without his fear, and of thy lords own meat;/ Where the same beer and bread, and selfsame wine,/That is his lordships shall be also mine" (pg. 1435).

The workers here are not treated like peasants; they are given everything they need by Penshurst, they never have to "pray/ For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,/As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here" (Lines72-73, pg. 1435). The workers of this home are treated like family and are given everything they need. The children are even treated as if they were the owners children being taught about religion and moral behavior. In the final lines 99-102, Jonson states how people who see this estate "proportion thee/ With other edifices, when they see/ Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,/ May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwells" (pg. 1437). The unity, harmony, and affection of this home, is why Penshurst is praised. In the end, its structure and lack of "nobility" is not important, it's the inside and its natural beauty that counts.

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