Friday, February 08, 2008

The Description of Cooke-ham

I was recently flicking through Kenneth Baker's anthology The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry (2000), which, as you would expect from the editor of The Faber Book of Conservatism, is a solidly conservative selection. It's not exactly Earth Shattering, even if it does acknowledge that ‘Man has a lot to answer for when it comes to spoiling the environment.’ He certainly does! Baker provides an example in the Introduction of the way politicians like himself can promote policies to help the environment: ‘as a result of positive government intervention and tax incentives more trees are planted each year than are felled.’ He has a whole section on trees, which includes an extract from an interesting early landscape poem, 'The Description of Cooke-ham' by Aemelia Lanyer. Here are a few lines:
Now let me come vnto that stately Tree,
Wherein such goodly Prospects you did see;
That Oake that did in height his fellowes passe,
As much as lofty trees, low growing grasse:
Much like a comely Cedar streight and tall,
Whose beauteous stature farre exceeded all...

A biographical note by Kari Boyd McBride explains that ''The Description of Cooke-ham' must have been written between February 25, 1609 (when Anne Clifford married and took the name "Dorset," by which she is called in the poem), and October 2, 1610 (when the poem was entered in the Stationers' Register).... [It] is the first country house poem to be published in English (predating Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst" [1616]). Drawing on classical generic features, Lanyer figures the virtue of the "Lady" of the poem, Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, in the homage accorded her by the estate's flora and fauna.' "Dorset", Anne Clifford, was Margaret's daughter.

Here is another extract in which Lanyer describes the effect of Lady Margaret's departure:

But your occasions call'd you so away,
That nothing there had power to make you stay:
Yet did I see a noble gratefull minde,
Requiting each according to their kind,
Forgetting not to turne and take your leaue
Of these sad creatures, powrelesse to receiue
Your fauour, when with griefe you did depart,
Placing their former pleasures in your heart;
Giuing great charge to noble Memory,
There to preserue their loue continually:
But specially the loue of that faire tree,
That first and last you did vouchsafe to see:
In which it pleas'd you oft to take the ayre,
With noble Dorset, then a virgin faire:
Where many a learned Booke was read and skand
To this faire tree, taking me by the hand,
You did repeat the pleasures which had past,
Seeming to grieue they could no longer last.

1 comment:

aureliaray said...

There is a footnote in ‘The Diaries of Anne Clifford’ (edited D J H Clifford, revised edition 2003, pp27-8), within the section on the diaries of 1603-1619, which refers to Cookham: ‘Not long before this Michaelmas myself, my cousin Frances, Ms Goodwin & Mrs Howbridge waiting on us, went in my Mother’s Coach from Barton to Cookham where my Uncle Russell, his wife and son then lay. The next day we went to Nonsuch where Prince Henry & Her Grace lay where I staid for a week, and left my Coz. there who was proposed to continue with her Grace, but I came back by Cookham and came to Barton where my A. of Bath went into the country.’