Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst"


"A country house poem is a poem in which the author compliments a wealthy patron or a friend through a description of his country house. Such poems were popular in early 17th-century England."

To Penshurst, originally.

Oh, Mr. Sidney, first Earl of Leicester but also first

in the hearts of his countrymen, and first in the arts for sure,

what can I say but that your house is the sweetest little piece of terrific I've ever washed my hands in?

No, it's not plated in, I don't know, calf-skin or goose liver or fine Egyptian ham, or a diamond roof or anything,

but it's so old, it's so old, it's the oldest house of possibly ever,

and someday they're going to use it to film soo many murder mysteries, I'll bet.

Horace would love this house (you know, that Horace, from poems?)  

and honestly everyone who isn't you should fucking kill themselves. I mean it!!

The best dirt, you have it, the sky is better where your house is,

I could kill myself and still be happy here, you know?

I swear to God, your trees make other trees look like hay,

and not especially good hay. Sickly hay, diseased hay, hay that's gone perverse,

and your water, where to start with the water in your house? Soft as silk, for one thing,

and you have innumerable paths, you name it and there's a path for it,

health paths, sport paths, work paths, path paths, dryad paths,

feasting paths; for walking to get to places, your home simply cannot be beat!

And you have simply all the trees. The classics, the greats,

name 'em and they're there: Chestnut, check, uhh beech, check,

those tall ones with nuts, check, oak, okay, yes, I don't even know

half the trees you have, you have trees no one else has even heard of,

as far as the tree game is concerned you're not in the same league,

you're not even in the same country, as anybody else, tree-wise

you've left them all behind. Oh, and you literally never show off,

despite having essentially invented trees. What else? Deer,

obviously, and pretty much any animal you could ever want

to eat or look at; sheep are there, bulls, and calves, and kine,

Scottish cows, etc, horses in the middle, rabbits probably,

not just trees but groves, woods, glens, copses, uh ravines, thickets...orchards...vales...

Your rivers have fish in them, also birds in the fields, pheasants for shooting,

your carp are fat, your pikes are eels, your eels are great,

when people in your house want to fish, they just roll down the hill to the riverside and stick out a hand,

and the fish jump right on in. Plenty, that's the word I'm looking for,

Abundance: Babe, you've got it. A cornucopia looks empty next to you!!!!

Peaches, grapes, more fruit than you could shake a stick it,

more fruit than killed those babes from Goblin Market,

and while we're at it, literally no one hates you, and I should know,

because I asked. Usually when someone is this successful,

this well-off, this fat and happy, sleek and solid, someone

out there will find a reason to resent it. But not you!!

People love you. They'll mail you cheese, chickens, their favorite apples,

a nice big cake, their daughters carrying big plums, things you don't even need,

just to show their appreciation, and because they know you'll

always return the favor, because generous? Have I said

generous yet? If I haven't, fault's on me!! Folks,

he is simply giving it away! He's giving it away! The king thinks

you're fantastic, and so does his son, by the way (the prince)

and they both complimented your wife for never once having

a single pin out of place. I'm honestly just sad I that I can't

make this poem longer. I want to talk about your house forever!!

And all your children look just like you. Everyone says so.

You name it: fruit, children, wives, the king of England, compliments,

big fish, ducks, there's books, gentle spirits, morning prayers,

good manners, nice fabrics, great linens, art to look at,

it's here, it's fantastic, and it's now. Other houses look like

big brick accidents; not you. This is a house a man could really live in, if he wanted.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]