The Description of Cooke-ham Background

The Description of Cooke-ham Background

Although the title may seem to indicate that this poem has something to do with the preparation of pork, the titular object being described is actually a royal estate. Preceding the publication of Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurt” by five years, Aemilia Lanyer’s “The Description of Cooke-Ham” has a strong argument to make as being the very first example of the “country house poem” genre which achieved its greatest prominence in the century following Jonson’s publication. The poem is also an example of the “pathetic fallacy” which attributes human emotions to inanimate objects.

The stimulus behind the writing of “The Description of Cooke-Ham” was Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland and that royal estate on which she lived. The poet, Lanyer, takes as her theme the time she herself spent on the Cookeham estate and how that time led both to the poet’s religious conversion and her blossoming into a writer.

The motif that recurs is one in which the estate—apparently while occupied by both Clifford and Lanyer and possibly other women as well—becomes in the poetic fancy a type Edenic paradise notable for the absence of an Adam. The figurative realization of Cooke-Ham takes on the idealized memorialization of a female utopia. This idealization is placed all the more starkly in contrast to reality by virtue of the notable fact expressed in the poem that women were not allowed at the time to inherit such claims to property ownership.

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