Jonson’s Poetry

ENGL 520

Dr. Fike


We are going to spend two days looking at Jonson’s poems as follows:


Day One


Today we will discuss two of Jonson’s most famous poems in terms of the following questions.  You are responsible for reading only these two poems for today.


“On My First Son”


  1. Here are elements of this poem’s outline; put them in the right order:  lamentation, moral exhortation, praise, consolation, loss.
  2. What is Jonson’s sin, and what is its punishment?  Is there also comfort here?
  3. How is life portrayed in line 3?  How is God portrayed?
  4. What does “O could I lose all father now!” mean (line 5)?
  5. According to the poem, why is an early death desirable?
  6. Why does Jonson say, “Rest in soft peace” instead of just the standard “Rest in peace”?
  7. Why does Jonson call his son “his best piece of poetry”?  If you have read Sidney’s “An Apologie for Poetry,” can you make a connection?
  8. In the last two lines, with what attitude will Jonson now confront life?


“To Penshurst”


Here are some questions to help you read the poem:


  1. How does the poet characaterize the house and the surrounding area?
  2. What does the poem suggest about how a family should live?
  3. How does Penshurst contrast with newer estates?  Is there an element of social commentary here?
  4. What point is Jonson making at the beginning and end of this poem?  What does “dwell” signify?
  5. How is the poem organized?
  6. How does the poem reflect the Great Chain of Being?


In class we will do the following group activity:  “To Penshurst” can be viewed from numerous critical perspectives.  This exercise gives you an opportunity to put your knowledge of literary theory from ENGL 300 to use.  Work with a partner or in a group of three to make points about the poem from one of the following critical perspectives.  How would each of these “schools” of criticism view the poem?



Day Two


Today is a fact-finding mission.  We will not try to discuss all of the poems in on pages 147-63; we will instead focus on the following selections:


I will assign each of you at least one poem to study carefully ahead of time.  As you (or you and your partner[s]) work, try to answer the following two questions:


Note:  It is very appropriate for you to do some research on your poem and/or to write a response paper about it.