Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds “Thou are 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.
Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds There in the writhed bark 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. The 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, to the river bends, thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves to 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 lives in every field.
Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds 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 they 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 my walls, that every child may reach.
Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds And though thy walls be of the country stone, they are 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 made 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 by free provisions, far above the need of such?
Skip to 3 minutes and 53 seconds 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 that 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.
Skip to 4 minutes and 50 seconds All is there, as if thou then were mine, or I reigned here. There’s nothing I can wish for, 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 them. And what praise was heaped on my good lady then, who therein reaped that just reward of her high housewifery, to have her linen, plate, and all things nigh, when she was far.
Skip to 5 minutes and 47 seconds 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 with all. 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 these proud ambitious heaps, and nothing else, may say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.”
Listen to the poem read by Richard Dutton
Listen to the poem read by Richard Dutton and watch images of Penshurst place today. (The video transcript does not set out the poem in lines so, if you wish to read it yourself, you can find a copy with introduction and footnotes in the downloads section below. )
As you watch, look out for connections between Jonson’s poem and images of Penshurst and think about how humanity’s integration with the natural world features here.
How does the poem sound from our current perspectives, in a world faced with unprecedented climate change?
Do you think its promotion of the consumption of locally produced goods (a fashion called ‘locavorism’) look like form of ‘green’ ecological stewardship?
How are Penshurst Place and the members of the Sidney family idealized in the text?
When you’ve finished listening to the video, visit the interactive website from Penshurst and make connections to the poem.
Then post a comment on the poem’s connections to Penshurst’s gardens today or about how we might read it in a world concerned with air miles and stewardship of the earth.
© Alison Findlay Lancaster University