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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday: Hospitality Through the Centuries

June 14, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, SCBWI, Southern Breeze, workshops, ponderings, history, writing life

with Claudia, who even loaned me a hat!, and fabulous Hostess with the Mostest Joan. The bottom photo is from 1994 - at Penshurst with the Harrises.

At last month’s Poetry for All Highlights Founders Workshop, Eileen Spinelli told us that a writer needs time to meander. So please bear with me – I’m meandering today!

Last weekend, I had the terrific good fortune to attend the SCBWI Southern Breeze summer retreat, “Show Don't Tell: How Acting Techniques Improve Writing” led by Hester Bass. At first I thought I’d find a poem celebrating acting for today, and then I wanted to celebrate hospitality – shown by Hester in her leadership, shown by Joan Broerman, our region’s founder, who along with hubby Neal welcomed all of us into their home for sessions and meals, and shown by co-RA Claudia Pearson, who graciously offered me her gorgeous guest room to bunk in for the weekend.

A search for poems on “hospitality” led to Ben Jonson’s 1616 poem, “To Penshurst.” Well, this poem led me to an old photo album. Jeff, myself and Morgan, age two at the time in 1994, made a trip to England for our 10th anniversary. We were covered up with hospitality and wonderful day trips by friends of Jeff’s family – John and Pauline Harris, and their son Chris. Their home was in Sevenoaks, Kent, not far from the Penshurst estate, and off we went. John and Pauline are both gone now, but I will always remember their warmth and enthusiasm.

I’ll also always remember that trip to Penshurst – the medieval banquet hall and its chestnut beams and long, long tables transported us back to the fourteenth century! According to my notes, we stopped for a decadent cream tea in the Tea Room on the way out, where we were bid goodbye with double rainbows outside.

I figured since the poem was written by Ben Jonson, dramatist and contemporary of Shakespeare, it qualified as both acting-related and hospitality-related. It’s an “estate poem” which looks at nature, culture and social relationships. Here’s a taste with the beginning and a bit from later on:

To Penshurst

by Ben Jonson

Thou art 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.

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 make
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 thy free provisions, far above
The need of such? 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 …

For the entire poem, click here.

Oh – and did you know Ben Jonson is the only person buried in an upright position in Westminster Abbey? (Click here for more. Told you I was meandering.)

Thanks for visiting, and meander on over to Mary Lee’s A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday roundup!


  1. June 14, 2012 11:08 PM EDT
    Thank you for taking us along on your meanderings, Robyn!
    - Mary Lee Hahn
  2. June 15, 2012 3:08 AM EDT
    What a fascinating meander! I remember studying Ben Jonson's plays in my theater history courses, but never delved into his poetry, so thanks for this gem. And of course I'm particularly intrigued by the "Show Don't Tell" workshop - would love to hear more about that!
    - Renee LaTulippe
  3. June 15, 2012 6:20 AM EDT
    Thank you for sharing your photos and memories! I esp. liked this bit (and the ending):

    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;

    Interesting about Ben Jonson's burial!
    - Tabatha
  4. June 15, 2012 7:29 AM EDT
    Glad for such company on the journey, Mary Lee! Thanks for hosting today.

    Renee - I thought of you; we had a blast. We worked on describing characters through their specific actions which showed emotions (rather than naming the emotion), etc. We had to walk like our characters, do some improv, etc. Fun and helpful!

    Tabatha, thanks for visiting. Those were among my favorite lines as well.
    - Robyn Black
  5. June 15, 2012 8:34 AM EDT
    Fascinating. I always learn so much when I visit you. I wish we had 'met' when I still lived in Georgia...
    - Katya @ Write. Sketch. Repeat.
  6. June 15, 2012 8:40 AM EDT
    Love your meandering -- the poem takes me back to college where I first read it, and then happy memories when we lived in England and did visit Penshurst and Kent (because of the poem). Oh to feast on capon, cheeses, rural cakes and blushing peaches :). Thanks for this most hospitable post!
    - jama
  7. June 15, 2012 8:54 AM EDT
    My favorite part is "But all come in..." It's so welcoming. It reminds me of Poetry Friday. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories and this poem.
    - Liz
  8. June 15, 2012 9:09 AM EDT
    Our family visited kent two years ago, and Penshurst was one of our stops - just a lovely old place! Also envious of the SCBWI conference yu attened...we have one coming up soon in New Jersey which I'm hoping to attend.
    - Tara
  9. June 15, 2012 9:14 AM EDT
    It's just special having visited a place then to find a poem about it written so long ago, & one can feel as if we're there, watching the procession to the gathering. I like the part of the farmers sending their daughters "this way to husbands, and whose baskets bear/An emblem of themselves in plum or pear." The places bring much to the imagination. Great to see the pictures too. Thank you Robyn!
    - Linda Baie
  10. June 15, 2012 9:30 AM EDT
    A perfect choice!
    - Doraine Bennett
  11. June 15, 2012 9:49 AM EDT
    So many lovely visitors while I stepped away!

    Katya, thanks for the kind words. I'm holding out hope our paths will yet cross...

    Jama, OF COURSE I thought of you with those amazing edible descriptions... ;0) How wonderful to know of your visit to Penshurst and Kent - because of poetry no less!

    Liz, you're so right! I love that connection you made between "But all come in" and Poetry Friday.

    Hi, Tara - wasn't Penshurst spectacular? I hope you make it to the NJ SCBWI event. I'm so spoiled to live in an area with a wildly active group.

    Linda, when I read the lines about those daughters seeking husbands, I smiled... wondered who might pluck them (the lines), and it was you!

    Hi, Doraine! Thanks. So happy to share the retreat with you last weekend, but we needed more catching up time... :0)
    - Robyn Black
  12. June 15, 2012 11:25 AM EDT
    Meanderings have to happen sometimes and they always seem to turn out great! Thanks for sharing the poem and the fun...and the information. Upright burial...hmmm.
    - Donna
  13. June 15, 2012 11:29 AM EDT
    Ha! Thanks for visiting, Donna. I thought the burial info was quite interesting, too. There are a couple of different theories at the Westminster site....?
    - Robyn Black
  14. June 15, 2012 12:39 PM EDT
    Westminster's an interesting place to visit. I found it to be fascinating. It's always a pleasure to visit your site to see what poetry you have here.
    I know you must have enjoyed being with Joan and her husband. They are nice people. Acting is fun too. I used to perform in school, community, and church dramas and musical performances.
    - Patricia Cruzan
  15. June 15, 2012 8:32 PM EDT
    I love this tribute to Penhurst and the family that "dwells" there, instead of just building a fancy building to be admired. Thanks for sharing this!
    - Ruth (
  16. June 15, 2012 9:36 PM EDT
    Thank you, Patricia! I was happy to share this one today. And Joan and Neal are such wonderful folks. You would have enjoyed the retreat. :0)

    Hi, Ruth - The subjects of the poem do come across as folks you'd like to share tea with, even almost 400 years later! Thanks for visiting.
    - Robyn Black
  17. June 19, 2012 2:30 PM EDT
    Hi, Robyn. We are taking the children to London this summer. I will have to look for Ben Johnson at Westminster Abbey. Thanks for sharing this poem. Amazing -- the idea of "ripe" girls carrying around fruit as emblems of themselves. Then again, we do use fruit as metaphor for fertility still.
    - Laura Shovan
  18. June 19, 2012 5:04 PM EDT
    Hi, Laura! Ooohh, I'm jealous. Look forward to hearing about your trip. (And I was caught by those "ripe" girls, too...!)
    - Robyn Black
  19. June 22, 2012 11:28 AM EDT
    Oooh! You make me want to travel, book of poetry in hand!
    Pen and paper in other hand. Well, maybe I should find a bench.
    - Joan Broerman
  20. June 22, 2012 3:13 PM EDT
    Take me along, Joan, take me! ;0)
    - Robyn Black

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