Lanyer Description of Cookham
The Description of Cook-ham Lanyer’s Description of Cooke-ham is the first known printed poem identified as the country house poem, predating the publication of Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst”. It was adressed to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberband, as a bid for patronage. It describes an idyllic summer Lanyer once spent with Clifford on the estate at Cookham where Lanyer composed poetry to please her patron and the countess’s daughter Anne.
Manipulating pastoral conventions, Lanyer actually chalenges the masculine values of the country house genre, emblematic of the lord’s influence and of conservative claims of land control by depicting an edenic locus amoenus where three women live symbiotically without males . Indeed in Cook-ham she praises in panegyric terms her patron and her rightful claim to the land. But by reappropriating pastoral conventions into a new mold – that of the country house poem- Lanyer also justifies female authorship and creativity at a time where women were barely given the possiblity to write at all.
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So typically Lanyer seems to establish a tradition and yet she simultaneously subverts it. What is clever about Lanyer is the fact she uses convention : she writes a very conventional poem to convey unconventional ideas about women. Thus we’ll discuss to what extent we can portray Lanyer as a protofeminist writer : first by creating a representational and poetic female refuge from male-dominated world and discourse and then by questionning gender roles and male dominance through authorship. I. The Cooke-ham garden : both the depiction of a matriarchal autarcic society and an edenic garden where women are empowered and redeemed.
Lanyer’s poem aims at creating a symbolic space for women : that of the garden of Cooke-ham where Lanyer and two other women can find community with one another. In fact, with the use of garden imagery, Lanyer erects a feminine space within literature where women can be freed of male dominance. What is interesting here is the fact that the garden that is supposed to be the domain of the male becomes open for women’s creativity and self-assertion both as a physical place and a literary device.
Indeed the Cooke-ham description that Lanyer makes is not actually the description of a house even though there are references to it twice in the poem. It is not a description of the typical home of an aristocratic family run by patriarchal values like you can find in Jonnson’s poem. Here Lanyer focuses on the vinicity of the house, hence the use of the isotopia of nature and various references to open space. “ The hills” 35 , the swelling banks” 43 , “ the woods” 40 What is rather transgressive is the fact that women here are associated with the outside when traditionnally they are defined by the indoor and private sphere.
Which means they are not confined anymore to the cells of their houses. In this symbolic world that Lanyer creates thanks to poetry, women can enjoy full mobility, that is not limited by patriarchal rule. = this is to be seen through the use of verbs of movement such as “ Walks” L21, “Let me come unto that stately tree”, 53 “ you walk,81 “you mount”. 85 The garden of Cooke-ham is actually a symbolic and spatial emancipation of women performed through the medium of art. A) Lanyer’s matriarchal society
What Lanyer depicts here is a small autarcic martriarchal society that is quite reminiscent of the amazon’s tribe. => They actually live actually on their own : ‘ladies’, the queen of the Amazon being the countess referred as “the mistress of this place. ”11 => The garden of Cooke-ham is actually a locus amoenus that offers the possibility for women to live as a community with one another and to become empowered : through education “ Where many a learned book was read and scanned” which was a priviledge for a few number of scholarly women and writing : “ the muses gave their full consent,”3 : women were allowed to write with no opposition whereas at the time writing was regarded as a male prerogative . =>Morever one can note the use of a belligerant lexicon to refer as men : “ Defended Phoebus when he would assail” 64 : the intrusion of men metaphorically refered as the presence of Phoebus, god of the sun into that feminine space is perceived as a threat. The oak’s shade protects the ladies against the assault of the sun.
So women are removed from the male’s world with which they are at war. Besides marriage ( “ dorset now espoused”), 95the intermigling of male and female is seen as some kind of “fall”. Symbolically rendered by a downward movement corroborated by phrases such as “ lowest”,110 “ cast down” , “ so low” 104 + act of subjection “ use of passive form “ many are placed” 108 + severing of the community bond “ we cannot daily see”. 105 The notion of fall is very important here as Cooke-ham is also depicted as an edenic garden where the redemption of women is made possible.
Cooke-ham, an edenic garden and Lanyer’s plea for women’s redemption Indeed Lanyer in the first part of the text plunges us into a prelapsarian world where our 3 Eves remain unfallen, untouched by sin. => this is conveyed by the the key word at the start of the poem is which ‘grace’. Grace is everywhere. The word appears 10 times in the poem. As soon as the second verse : “Grace from that grace where perfect grace remained” => with the use of a triplet which can be reminiscent of the holy trinity. > Besides place rhymes with grace. So cooke-ham is basically of an edenic garden : * The poem itself reflects this mingling of earthly and heavenly world “ celestial pleasures” 15 //earthly treasures. * This estate is also inhabited by biblical beings: as the Countess climbs uphill to see the vista of English counties, she simultaneously ‘With Moyses’ mounts ‘his holy Hill, / To know his pleasure, and performe his Will’ References to the Christ, to David, to Joseph.
The place is endowed with God’s presence which appear to everyone ; “Of their Creator’s power, which there you saw”77 In all his creatures held a perfect law;And in their beauties did you plain descry His beauty, wisdom, grace, love, majesty” By recreating an edenic garden, Lanyer aims at contesting the unfair subjection of women on earth and to redeem them by debunking Eve’s fault (hence the 6 occurrences of the word virtue, virtuous). => What is at the core of the poem is the radical retelling of the fall episode by Lanyer.
Indeed at the centre of the state as Lanyer repeatedly tells the reader is the “oake” L54 * this tree is both reminiscent of the parallel biblical world in which cedars of Lebanon abound ( Much like a comely Cedar straight and Tall 132) and of a Palm Tree which would mean ‘faire tree’ is the cross on which redemption was won by the outsretched arms of Christ. And => =>Lanyer actually underlines the fact that this is the exact spot where the countess would lead her apostl to ead and discuss ‘holy Writ”84 => so actually thee fruit of the tree in Lanyer’s reinterpretation is shown to be good.
Women shouldn’t be considered as inferior to men and should be educated. C) Lanyer’s failure and the denounciation of male’s exclusive right to ownership Yet one must not neglect the fact that this is an elegiac poem and that Lanyer ends on a sorrow note. The various instances of pathetic fallacy appear to be more than just a way of accounting for the onset of winter, but refers to Lanyer’s personal grief and sadness. Depiction of a withering nature : “ The flowers Crept in the ground, the grass did weep for woe. 180» Isotopia of sadness : dismay, mourful sorrow = reification of nature. Due to the countess departure.« Of your depart, their very leaves did wither, « 194” The main reason for it is because Lanyer’s attempt to emancipate women fails. Indeed her representational space remains dependant on male’s will and dominance : Her sorrow, inspired by her exclusion from a new Eden on the grounds of class as well as, indirectly, gender. For this new exile from paradise is not only caused by her own lack of status – => her residence at Cooke-ham was dependent on the presence ff the Countess of Cumberland and her daughter Anne Clifford – = the result of the aristocratic women’s own exclusion from patriarchal society = because women can own a land.
Cooke-ham was not, after all, the Countess’s house, but only a temporary lodging. So at the end of the day, they are still the prisoners of men’s will. Kind of ineluctable confinement is rendered by the use of chiasmatic parallelism : “ The house received all ornaments to grace it, 19 ” V. 18 or zThe house cast off each garment that might grace it” 201 and the notion of rise and fall. “ Rise and fall” “ Rise” 37//” descend” 35 But if Lanyer’s utopia collapsed in front of the principle of male’s reality , the power of her poetry shall not be overlooked as it questions the traditional gender boudaries of the Elisabethian society
II. Male dominance to the test of female authorship A) Women as a subject of beauty : the questioning of women’s objectivity What is also worth analyzing in Lanyer’s depiction of the Cooke-ham garden is the fact that in the representational world she erects, women are the source of creativity. => Countess eyes are brighter than the sun “To shade the bright sun from your brighter eyes;” 26 Which means that the countess is more appealing that the symbol of masculinity which traditionnally shed light and animates things. => here nature’s shift originates from women. Trees with leaves, with fruits, with flowers clad,
Embraced each other, Turning themselves to beauteous Canopies, To shade the bright sun from your brighter eyes; Actually the presence of the Countess inspires a creative activity described here as a female act of creation : “The swelling banks delivered all their pride When such a Phoenix once they had espied. ”44 “ The Swelling banks that deliver” suggest the idea of pregnancy and birth imagery issuing from the body of women. In fact the locus amoenus derives from the communal and mutual relationship between elements of nature and the women who live there. So there is in fact a natural reproductive authority of women in that world.
Women are both the source of creativity and the creator. This conception is quite trangressive because women at the time were often associated with an object of beauty. They were a being-perceived. They were defined and celebrated through the medium of male’s eyes and artistic looking. But here in that garden, women become a subject of beauty. They are the deliverer of beauty. And of course, there is a mise en abyme at play in this poem as Lanyer as a poetess herself is the subject of beauty, she is a being-perceiver, she is the one who creates out of a blank page this edenic world and who delivers an object of beauty, that of the poem.
So there is definitely a plea for women’s right to authorship, to creativity in a world where writing was seen as a male prerogative. B) Women’s authorship : The questionning of Men’s authority But what is even more fascinating with Lanyer is the fact that she translates authorship into authority. By means of her authorship, by means of the authority that she is endowed with as a writer, Lanyer makes women the guarantor of authority in her Cooke-ham garden. She usurps through the process of writing authority over the man. She rejects the subordinate role of women. She refuses to be a being-perceived.
She performs a kind of matriarchal coup d’etat or at least she offers the possibility to consider a society of women out of the androcentrist perspective. Women can live by themselves. They do not need men to watch after them. This is why I consider that Lanyer’s work is very political. Beneaththe poetic surface, the very act of writing is trangressive. Because you never write for yourself, you write in order to be read, to reach out for an audience. This poem is not only dedicated to her patron but it calls for the attention of her contemporaries. Writing means that you can publicly voice some ideas through the medium of art.
Although your work can be very artistic, very focused on literary conventions such as poetry : here we’ve got one of the most conventional type of art : a countryhouse poem; writing here cannot reduced to the celebration of beauty. , to the mere poetic description of Cooke-Ham. This is actually a way to voice one opinion publicly to stand onto the public stage and exist politically speaking, as an author, as a woman in men’s world. This is very powerful move at a time when women had no say in public affairs, when you were required to be silent and accept their condition with all subjection.
As I said previously t to wield the pen was seen as a male prerogative But Lanyer was not silent. She used her pen and her printing press to make her voice heard. AndPoetry by essence is a voice. On the other hand it is also a way to engrave a spot for women in Literature and History. By resorting to poetry – which has long been used as the vector of memory and myth thanks to his memotechnical aspect – Lanyer adresses posterity in terms that were previously restricted to men. The idea of posterity is underlined with this verse “ his last farewell to Cooke-ham here I giue, When I am dead thy name in this may liue 206
Lanyer’s homoerotic transgressive use of poetry Through the art of poetry and her authorship, Lanyer transgresses other gender boundaries and take on another male prerogative which women’s sexual satisfaction. Indeed this poem disclosed an ambiguous homoerotic relationship between Lanyer and the countess. It can be read as some kind of re-writing of courship poems with the countess being referred as “ the mistress of the place”, in position of social superiority “ The Lady”, and Lanyer being the poet that praises her beauty, her power.
Lanyer’s latent homoerotic love for the countess is of course rendered with the idea of kiss and Lanyer’s envy for the tree that received it. Besides throughout the poem we sense a will on the part of Lanyer to establish an eroticized and idyllic relationship between the female writer that she is and the adressed reader Clifford and to give the countess sexual pleasure through the medium of poetry. In that sense, Lanyer’s enterprise is reminiscent of Barthe’s conception in Le plaisir du texte : according to which Literature is roughly a way of coming by means of words”
“Le texte que vous ecrivez doit me donner la preuve qu’il me desire. Cette preuve existe : c’est l’ecriture. L’ecriture est ceci : la science des jouissances du langage” Here the notion of pleasure is everywhere “ pleasure”,(8) “joys” , “delight”9 “ joyful”, “ recreations”, “sweet” 11 => in fact Clifford can experience the pleasurable sensation that the garden ministers to her desires because Lanyer has infused this world, through the device of the pathetic fallacy, with her own capacity for feeling = meaningful rhyme “ delight”/ “ sight” 74 shows that the delighful sight of the countess that gives Lanyer pleasure is sublimated and transmuted in the process of writing into an act of masturbation. Here Lanyer uses her pen as a penis to stimulate the senses of the countess. This is to be seen through the organic presence of the author’s voice : a kind of acoustic sensuality Use of alliterations “did weepe for woe. “ 180//”The Windes and Water “,181 references to the birds sinsing “ The little Birds in chirping notes did sing,29 refefrence to the pleasing “sound” pleasing sound » 41
So basically Lanyer is being transgressive here because she uses her pen as a penis. She is capable of pleasuring the countess by occupying the role of poet-lover that is normally reserved only for those with male bodies. But while literature at the time naturalized men’s poetic vocation by analogizing pen and penis, Lanyer here uses the poem as a dildo. As such she appears to embody the figure of the tribade, ” a woman who sexually penetrates other women using her enlarged clitoris or a dildo or how the patriarchal discourse would put it a woman who usurped male sexual and gender roles.
We can actually see an actual image of penetration in poem , when Clif- ford allows the features of the landscape—and most saliently the oak tree— to enter her mind by “placing their former pleasures in [her] heart” to “pre- serve their love. So the oak is actually described as a kind of masturbatory source of delight. 156 => What is alluring is that the reader with an empathetic identification can also experience the literary climax, the sexual pleasure oroduced by Lanyer’s poetry.