Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Silver Age Poets and Country House Poetry 30 July Lecture on fb

1.The Lie


Go, soul, the body’s guest,
Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant.
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church, it shows
What’s good, and doth no good.
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
Acting by others’ action;
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by a faction.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate.
And if they once reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending.
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust.
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor how it falters.
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in overwiseness.
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention.
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay.
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming.
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it’s fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity;
Tell virtue least preferreth.
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing—
Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing—
Stab at thee he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.

The Lie is a political and social criticism poem probably written by Sir Walter Raleigh circa 1592. Speaking in the imperative mood throughout, he commands his soul to go "upon a thankless errand" and tell various people and organizations of their misdeeds and wrongdoings. And if they object, Raleigh commands, publicly accuse them to be lying, or "give them the lie." To "give the lie" was a common phrase in Raleigh's time of writing.

The poem is written in 13 stanzas in an ABABCC rhyme scheme. Raleigh begins with an energetic determination to expose the truth, especially in the socially elite, although he knows his doing so will not be well received.

Go, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:

From there the poem moves quickly through a variety of scenes and situations of falsehood and corruption, all of which Raleigh condemns. The second and third stanzas accuse the court of being arrogant and yet wholly rotten, the church of being inactive and apathetic despite its teachings, and those in government of favoritism and greed, respecting only those in large numbers.

History and authorship

Scholars are not certain that Raleigh is the true author of the poem — which was published after Raleigh's death — though he remains the most likely candidate. This is one of Raleigh's most anthologized poems.

2.Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

NOTE :She has a bejeweled collar, indicating she already has an owner. Her collar is adorned with the Latin phrase ‘Noli Me tangere’ meaning ‘touch me not’. This expression refers to a phrase spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Bible. The design also includes the name of her owner – ‘for Caesar’s I am.’ If we identify the poem as referring to Anne Boleyn, then her new owner would be King Henry VIII; the pair were married around the time when this poem was composed and Wyatt could no longer compete for her affections. By describing Henry using the allusion of Caesar, Wyatt bestows on his monarch the qualities of a reputation of greatness and incisive rule.
A Small Quiz on The Sonnet 👇

3.Who were the silver poets?

The silver poets were a group of English writers—including Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard (Earl of Surrey), Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and John Davies—who lived during the sixteenth century and composed short poems, ballads, carols, elegies, epitaphs, lyrics, and sonnets. Their writings explored the theme of love during the beginning of the English Renaissance through the end of the Elizabethan Age.

The silver poets are known for having broken with previous traditions, exploring new and different approaches to talking about love. Wyatt, for example, discusses courtly love in a style culturally influenced by other writers throughout Europe during that period. He went on to write poems which were erotic, sensual, and very personal as well. Wyatt was a courtier, and his poetry examines the notion of change and the vicissitudes which characterized his life as he navigated the politics of Henry VIII's court.

The silver poets were a group of English writers—including Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard (Earl of Surrey), Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and John Davies—who lived during the sixteenth century and composed short poems, ballads, carols, elegies, epitaphs, lyrics, and sonnets. Their writings explored the theme of love during the beginning of the English Renaissance through the end of the Elizabethan Age.

The silver poets are known for having broken with previous traditions, exploring new and different approaches to talking about love. Wyatt, for example, discusses courtly love in a style culturally influenced by other writers throughout Europe during that period. He went on to write poems which were erotic, sensual, and very personal as well. Wyatt was a courtier, and his poetry examines the notion of change and the vicissitudes which characterized his life as he navigated the politics of Henry VIII's court.


A minor genre of poetry which has some importance in 17th-century English verse. It is defined by its subject-matter, which is the fruitfulness and stability of a patron's country estate, and the patron's own conservative virtues.

 Ben Jonson's ‘To Penshurst’ (1616) is the model in English, based partly on Latin poems by Martial and Horace. Later examples include Thomas Carew's ‘To Saxham’ (1640), and Andrew Marvell's ‘Upon Appleton House’ (written c.1652). For a fuller account, consult Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place: The Country House in English Literature (1993

Country house poetry is a sub-genre of Renaissance poetry and was first written during the seventeenth century. It was closely linked to patronage poetry, in which poets (sometimes outrageously) flattered patrons in order to gain sponsorship and status. At this time, many houses were built in the countryside as a display of wealth, and as a retreat for the courtier when overwhelmed by the court and city life. Country houses were not, originally, just large houses in the country in which rich people lived. Essentially they were power houses - the houses of a ruling class. As such they could work at the local level of a manor house, the house of a squire who was a little king in his village and ran the county. They could work at a local and national level as the seat of a landowner who was also a member of parliament. Basically, people did not live in country houses unless they either possessed power, or, by setting up in a country house, were making a bid to possess it. Country house poems generally consisted of complimentary descriptions of the said country house and its surrounding area which often contained pastoral detail, and praised cultivated nature. The purpose of the central part of this essay is to assess the effectiveness of Renaissance 'country house' poetry as social criticism. 
Country house poems were written to flatter and please the owner of the country house. Why did poets do this? Until the nineteenth century the wealth and population of England lay in the country rather than the towns; landowners rather than merchants were the dominating class. Even when the economic balance began to change, they were so thoroughly in control of patronage and legislation, so strong through their inherited patronage and expertise that their political and social supremacy continued. As a result, from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century anyone who had made money by any means, and was ambitious for himself and his family, automatically invested in a country estate. Poets tried to gain the favour and patronage of these landowners through praise of their homes.

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson's country house poem To Penshurst was written to celebrate the Kent estate of Sir Robert Sidney, Viscount Lisle, later earl of Leister (father of Mary Wroth). The poem idealises country life and sets up an opposition between the city and the country. The title To Penshurst indicates that the poem is a gift, in praise of Penshurst. Jonson begins by telling us what Penshurst is not:

Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show . . . nor can boast a row of polish'd pillars . . . thou hast no latherne. 

This tells us that Penshurst was not built to show off the wealth of its owners, and is far from ostentatious. The qualities that cannot be found at Penshurst are listed to make it seem humble and down-to-earth compared to the average country house. Perhaps this is done to prevent peasants' resentment of lavish spending on luxuries by the wealthy. A more likely explanation, however, is that it is subtle criticism of other, more flamboyant residences. Jonson seems to take a Christian standpoint in his encouragement of modesty and his veiled criticism of the vanity of the owners of more showy edifices. Or perhaps it is a frustrated stab at the inequalities of capitalism. Penshurst is said to boast natural attractions:

of soyle, of ayre, of wood, of water: therein thou art fair.

The idea that nature is beautiful and does not need decoration is emphasised. The opening lines of the poem may lead the reader into thinking that Penshurst is a dull place, so the employment of classical allusions serves to seize the reader's attention, and also adds an air of mystery and uncertainty. This also gives the impression of a Pagan society, and reinforces mythological stereotypes about the countryside, although we are told towards the end of the poem that "His children...have been taught religion". This may be an illustration of popular pre-conceptions of country life by townsfolk, i.e. that it is Pagan and uncivilised, whereas, in reality (we are told), country living is Christian. It is significant that the poem mentions the poet Philip Sidney: "At his great birth, where all the Muses met."  We are told that Penshurst was the birthplace of Sidney, and this serves to disperse the stereotype that country folk were unintelligent:

The absentee landlord, who dissipated his time and fortune in living it up in the city, became a stock figure in contemporary satire. But so did the boozy illiterate hunting squire, the Sir Tony Lumpkin or Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, who never left the country at all, or if he did only made himself ridiculous. 

Philip Sidney was seen as the model of a Renaissance man. He was a courtier, talented poet, advisor and Cupbearer to the Queen, and soldier. His whole family were patrons of the arts, so the connection made between Penshurst and the Sidney family gives the impression that Penshurst was the epitome of an educated, cultured household.

In the central part of the poem, Jonson makes Penshurst sound like a countryside Utopia. The copse "never failes to serve thee season'd deere" , "each banke doth yield thee coneyes (rabbits)" , "the painted partrich lyes in every field . . . willing to be kill'd." [6] This kind of submission sounds too good to be true - animals are biologically programmed to survive, there is no way any creature would give its life "for thy messe" .

It is likely that Jonson's portrayal of country life has a satirical edge. He says that "fat, aged carps runne into thy net" [8] and that when eels detect a fisherman, they "leape . . . into his hand." This irony may be directed towards those who boast that country life is trouble-free. The theme of capitalism runs through this poem - we see the final product e.g. the food at the table, but we are not told about the killing process or the toiling that must have taken place in the construction of Penshurst. Instead, we are told that "thy walls....are rear'd with no man's ruine, no mans grone." No man died, or even groaned in the building of the walls. A modern comparison would be a pair of Nike trainers - we only see the final, shiny, commercially advertised product, not the assembly of the trainers by grossly under-paid 'workers' of the Far East.

The picture of this perfect world is ominously underscored by the biblical allusion in lines 39-44: "The Earely cherry...fig, grape and quince....hang on thy walls, that every child may each." This could be reference to the Christian story of the Creation, because fig leaves were used by Adam and Eve to cover their naked bodies, and Eden was surrounded by a wall. The allusion implies that although this world may seem flawless at the moment, it is inevitable that the perfection will have to end at some point in the near future.

Contradictorily, the poem displays aspects of Communism as well as Capitalism. For example, all of the people from the surrounding area make their own specific contribution to the feast that takes place. Everyone is allowed to eat "thy lords owne meat" , beer, wine and bread. Nobody makes a note of how much is consumed by individuals, "Here no man tells my cups" , and there is a strong sense of altruistic sharing and togetherness: "That is his Lordships, shall also be mine." There does not seem to be any kind of hierarchy present (even when the king visits), all persons are treated as equals, all are equally important. Perhaps the inclusion of the biblical reference is a pre-emptive suggestion that Communism can only fail (due to Man's greedy nature). Once society began to reorganise on class basis, the victory ultimately lay with the largest class. The centre of power began to move down the social scale. First the gentry, then the middle classes, and ultimately the working classes grew in power and independence. This posed the upper classes with a dilemma. Should they fight the movement or accept it? The most successful families were those who accepted it, and, on the basis of their inherited status and expertise, set out to lead the classes below them rather than to fight them. But leadership of this kind involved association; as a result, first the gentry and then the middle classes disappeared from great households as employees or subordinates, and reappeared as guests. Medieval dukes were unwilling to sit at table with anyone of lower rank than a baron; Victorian dukes were prepared to meet even journalists at dinner. Jonson shows that Penshurst is the kind of place that embraces the lower classes, and allows them to eat at the same table as the king of the country.

The generosity of the people is greatly emphasised in this poem. No one comes "empty-handed" to the feast. The guest is offered more than enough food and drink. Every provision imaginable is in plenty, from the beer to the meat, from the fire to the clean linen. This implies that unlike some country houses at this time which were grandiose but unwelcoming, Penshurst is a place of hospitality and modesty. The king made an impromptu visit to Penshurst, and the house was neat and tidy, "as if it had expected such a guest" . The king often visited the houses of those he least favoured because the cost of the event often led to the bankruptcy of the proprietor. The poem shows that Penshurst can withstand this threat, and was even in an immaculate condition when the king arrived unexpectedly. The portrayal of the king as humble enough to dine at Penshurst with all classes of people flatters the crown, and is likely to gain Jonson favour with the king.

Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) was of Italian Jewish descent. She may have served in the Duchess of Kent's household. Her volume of poems Salve deus rex Judoeorum, 1611, was in part a bid for support from a number of prominent women patrons. Her country house poem The Description of Cooke-ham gives us an account of the residence of Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, in the absence of Lady Clifford, who is depicted as the ideal Renaissance woman - graceful, virtuous, honourable and beautiful. Lanyer describes the house and its surroundings while Lady Margaret is present, and while she is absent. While Lady Margaret was around, the flowers and trees:

Set forth their beauties then to welcome thee!
The very hills right humbly did descend,
When you to tread upon them did intend.
And as you set you feete, they still did rise,
Glad that they could receive so rich a prise. 

It seems as if nature is there for the sole purpose of pleasing Lady Margaret. The birds come to attend her, and the banks, trees and hills feel honoured to receive her. Nature is personified throughout the poem, and, when Lady Margaret leaves, appears to go through a process of mourning: "Every thing retaind a sad dismay," . Many poems emphasise the strength of nature and the weakness of humans (for example, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley), but in this poem, nature seems to be at the mercy of a human, and a woman at that. This unrealistic notion of Lady Margaret's control over the elements greatly flatters her, and the poem is therefore likely to gain Lanyer's favour with the Countess. A far more rational explanation would be that Lady Margaret resided at Cooke-ham during the summer months, and just after she left, autumn came upon the countryside. In order to flatter Lady Margaret, Lanyer implies that the countryside is mourning her departure, but in actual fact she sees the turn of the season, which is not affected by Lady Margaret. Just as in To Penshurst the lifestyle seemed too good to be true, in A Description of Cook-ham, the Lady of the house seems to be too close to perfection to be real. Perhaps Lanyer's poem is a satirical take on the relationship between the poet and the patron. She appears to be saying that poets will write anything to flatter patrons in order to gain their favour - even something as ridiculous as the idea that nature is emotionally sensitive ("the grasse did weep for woe" and mourns the departure of a human being.


The social criticism contained in these two poems is subtle, and shrouded. Society is never criticised directly by the poets, and irony was their most valuable tool. Nature behaves in strange, abnormal ways in both of the poems. In To Penshurst, animals seem unrealistically submissive towards the wills of the people, provisions are acquired with the minimum of effort. The timber crisis of the seventeenth century illustrates the extent to which poets grappled with contradictory images of nature: "Nature, on the one hand, is the fallen, postlapsarian realm of scarcity and labour and, on the other, the divinely ordered handiwork of a beneficent God that can be made to yield infinite profits." 

The social criticism present in To Penhurst is very effective because it is so unexpected. The role of country house poems was to praise and flatter, yet it is possible to detect a strong sense of irony in the descriptions, and we see the criticism present if we read between the lines.

Similarly, love poetry is sometimes used as a way for poets to discuss other things. The poem Who so list to hount I knowe where is an hynde, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt, at first appears to be a love poem, but it could also be interpreted as criticism of patronage, hunting and politics. The hunter and the hunted are compared to the patron and the poet. At this time, poets were afraid to be direct in their criticism of the world they lived in, because they could incur the wrath of the monarch, which was never beneficial if the poet wanted to gain patronage.

The poems are effective as social criticism because the criticism is not obvious, but if one looks closely, it becomes apparent. However, it was unlikely that people read country house poetry to be provided with political or social insights, so it is likely that many of the allusions were lost on the majority of readers.

To Penshurst

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.
There in the writhèd bark are cut the names
Of many a sylvan, taken with his flames;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns to reach thy Lady’s Oak.
Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve thee seasoned deer
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies; and the tops,
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sidney’s copse,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant with the speckled side;
The painted partridge lies in every field,
And for thy mess is willing to be killed.
And if the high-swollen Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loath the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first themselves betray;
Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours.
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come;
The blushing apricot and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down;
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.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses bring them, or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands, and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum or pear.
But what can this (more than express their love)
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such? whose liberal board doth flow
With all that hospitality doth know;
Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat,
Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat;
Where the same beer and bread, and selfsame wine,
This is his lordship’s shall be also mine,
And I not fain to sit (as some this day
At great men’s tables), and yet dine away.
Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat;
He knows below he shall find plenty of meat.
The tables hoard not up for the next day;
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,
As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here:
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King James when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make ’em! and what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then, who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery;
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh,
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest!
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal.
His children thy great lord may call his own,
A fortune in this age but rarely known.
They are, and have been, taught religion; thence
Their gentler spirits have sucked innocence.
Each morn and even they are taught to pray,
With the whole household, and may, every day,
Read in their virtuous parents’ noble parts
The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts.
Now, Penshurst, they that will 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.

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