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The Country- House Poem Genre

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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 d...

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... were almost touching. Yet their poems were strikingly different.

According to Ann Coiro, Penshurst became a fantasy redress of Jonson's own social unease, while Lanyer's description of Cooke-ham is a desolate place, a county- house poem of loss. It is clear from my analysis of these two wonderfully complex and thoroughly entertaining poems that while they contain various similarities they also exhibit a wide range of dissimilarities. I have discussed reasons such as gender and class position that contributed to the poets' conception of the county- house poem. From their original creation in iambic pentameter, to their installation of a woman as a key figure to their very different visions of the estate towards the end. `The description of Cooke- ham' and `To Penshurst' are excellent examples of the country- house poem and continue to be compared and contrasted.

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