UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Property Lines: Territorialization and the Renaissance Country House Poem

Alec Fisher

This term paper describes how country house poetry, a genre that has its inception in the English Renaissance, demonstrates how certain poets and their patrons articulated their relationship to the natural world.  This subset of landscape poetry follows a lengthy description of the patron’s estate in order to glorify their personage.  This paper takes a self-consciously modern glance back at the work of Aemilia Lanyer, Ben Jonson, and Andrew Marvell to investigate how each poet differed from the next in their understanding of their patron’s estate.  Focusing most strongly on the dark contrast between the anthropomorphic metaphors in Lanyer’s “A Description of Cookham” and Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House,” these two texts reveal how the politics of property ownership influence the discursive pathways that are chosen to characterize each piece of land.  In order to understand how the texts under the local environment of their estates so differently, the paper utilizes the idea of territorialization from the work of French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari from their seminal work Capitalism and Schizophrenia, coming to understand how language constructs the social relationship with discursive spaces.  Focusing on the pathetic fallacy as a literary device, the author finds that in setting these two texts side by side, one can see the ideological difference between land and property.  The pathetic fallacy and its effects on depictions of nature in country house poems evidence how language sets the boundaries for how one can understand reality.

Country house poetry was an early seventeenth-century genre of verse in which the poet would exalt their patron and their family by describing their estate.  One common trope of these poems is the personification of the natural environment to reflect the emotions or qualities of the aristocrats within the home.  John Ruskin in Modern Painters (1856) calls this pattern the pathetic fallacy, drawing evidence from the landscape poetry of Theocritus up to his own contemporaries (Ruskin, 172). The pathetic fallacy seeks to animate the geography of the speaker as a device to metonymically reference or illustrate another concern of the poem.  For example, Amelia Lanier’s “A Description of Cookham” focuses its description on how the condition of the plant and animal life on the estate changes according to whether Lanier’s patron, Margaret Clifford, is present or absent from the area.  The reader witnesses admiration of her through the transition of the flora and fauna from a state of adoration to depression as Clifford leaves Cookham.  Ruskin criticizes the use of the pathetic fallacy for the way in which it introduces “falseness in all our impressions of external things,” however I am most interested in the way in which these metaphors are relevant for understanding the relationship Renaissance individuals have with their local environment (Ruskin, 172). Two other poems in this genre, Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst” and Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” operate in this same fashion, transforming the local environment into a system that only reflects the passions of humans. “To Penshurst” reflects on the generosity of the Sidney family during a harvest festival with the farmers that work their land.  “Upon Appleton House” takes a tour through the Fairfax estate, documenting a sense of redemption and innocence after the English Civil War.  Human identity becomes dispersed into the surrounding biology, recreating these landscapes into non-human extensions of the human servants that populate the household.  Deleuze and Guattari, in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, talk about a process of territorialization, in which the symbolic meaning of a space is dismantled and reorganized upon the entry of a new power (Gunzel).  One common example of this comes from Native Studies.  Under colonial rule, European powers erased the religious scripture and iconography from native architecture and reinscribed them with Judeo-Christian narratives (Gunzel).  I argue that the country house poem operates in much of this same fashion.  Humans do not simply dwell in the land, but ideologically territorialize the surrounding area.  By reimagining the landscape as a realm that is dutiful to its human occupants, these texts have territorialized the countryside into an anthropocentric space.

I bring up territorialization in order to provide a critical lens through which one can see how the mechanism of the anthropocentric metaphors in “A Description of Cookham” instigate an ideological remastering of the natural environment of the Clifford estate.  Deleuze and Guattari think of territory as a way in which subjects perform “patterns of interaction” in order to establish a particular relationship with the matrix of signs bound within a particular environment (e.g. the social code of raising your hand in order to speak inside the territory of a classroom) (Grunzel).  The psychographic boundaries of territory are not so much marked by physical lines as the alignment of habits, symbols, social practices, etc. (Grunzel).  The subject maintains their relationship with a particular space by committing to certain pre-established codes of behavior and recognizing specific social signifiers or creates a new relationship by advancing and embedding their own (Grunzel).  Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of “territory” is a lever for understanding how Renaissance language ultimately informs how these individuals perceive their relationship to the natural world.  By territorializing its environment, the text articulates the ideological difference between land and property through the pathetic fallacy. “A Description” uses the pathetic fallacy to make implicit connections between the authority of Clifford as a female patron and overseer in a paternalistic legal system by aligning Cookham with images of indentured servitude and property (Guimaraes, 8).  By imagining the local landscape in a state of service, the unappropriated geography of the estate becomes understood as obedient property.  On the whole, this fallacy acts as a rhetorical device to establish Clifford’s power as the administrator of the Cookham estate and territorialization is its mechanism.

The country house poem differs from its ancestors, the pastoral and the georgic, by the way in which it reimagines the landscape in order to serve human ends.  The pastoral and the georgic focus on the idyllic, tranquil life of the shepherd and the labor of the farmer respectively.  However, in both of these genres it is human action upon the environment that is storied, an altogether different mechanism than animating the biosphere to serve human ends.  This distinction refers to two separate conceptions of the purpose of the natural world.  The georgic and pastoral see a life devoted to the human efforts of harvesting or grazing; the country house poem imagines the landscape in a position of willing self-sacrifice and deference to family that largely makes no attempt to force its obedience.  The country house poem is deeply invested in imagining the natural world in a position of servitude because this pattern supports the social position of the poems’ patrons — receiving servitude simply upon the order of the universe.  However, shepherds and farmers do not receive deference upon their birth and thus must become agents which are required to act in order to see a change in their environment.  One of the ways in which the country house poem generates social power for the English aristocracy is by allowing both the human servants and the trees to bow their heads without any intervention  on their part.  The patron’s inferiors act on their behalf because their servitude is instigated by natural law, the patron’s authority granted and maintained by God’s design.  Where the pastoral and the georgic genres document the shepherd and the farmers’ efforts to create a more anthropogenic world, the country house poem illustrates how an anthropogenic world was already created for the aristocrat: the politics of social class are ultimately built into these differences between the three genres.

Specific lines in Lanier’s “A Description of Cookham” demonstrate how the landscape can become territorialized in this way using the language and images of class difference and indentured service. The text uses these metaphors to grace Clifford’s presence on the Cookham estate, the environment becoming an ornament to enhance her visage.  The speaker describes her family’s property emotionally responding to her presence, evidenced by physical manifestations in its geography. Not only the human servants, but the animals, plants, and soil are impressionable and consciously ready to be at Clifford’s aid; nature is bequeathed with a desire to serve. When Clifford arrives at Cookham, no “ornaments” are spared to “grace” the estate for its new housewife (19).   Lanier writes that “all things” in the estate follow the example of the “walks” putting on their “summer liveries” to celebrate the countess’s arrival (20). But the text reaches further, “all things else […] hold like similes:” the semicolon at the end of the line followed by a description of how the rest of the non-human land is also celebrating her presence as an extension of the human household (22).  Each “tree,” “flower,” and “plant” begins to flourish at the sight of her, setting forth their “beauties” in an effort to “welcome” her to her new dwelling (33-34).  The hills “humbly” show deference, descending and rising under her feet, the geography “glad” to accommodate her (35-38).  The wind is “delighted” to have touched her and the riverbank sees a sense of “honor” in “supporting” her travels (39-46).  All of the estate is “on bended knee,” “to salute” her “honor” (68-9).  The environs of Cookham are territorialized as selfless ornaments for Lanyer’s patron by using the language and signifiers of the estate’s servant class. For example, similar feudal language is used to describe humans and the environment in “To Penshurst:” both the fish and the peasants of the estate “salute thy lord and lady,” through their offerings of food (50).  In both poems the natural space around the country house has been animated only to become yet another set of personages to serve the estate’s aristocratic family.

The text also uses the life cycles of the natural world to demonstrate how Clifford is in control of Cookham’s existence. When Clifford is forced to depart from the estate, the landscape begins to die off, ideologically centering her in this space.  Once the trees know that the lady of the house is leaving, their leaves begin to “wither” and die (136).  The flora begins to weep, their leaves falling like “tears”, begging for their mistress not to leave them “all” (139-40).  Clifford departs from the country house, and the trees begin to shrivel up, “half alive, half dead” (146).  The sun grows “weak” and then every “green thing” is forced to “make the earth their grave,” the house falling to “dust and cobwebs” (195-202).  What would be a natural procession of the seasons, from summer to fall to winter, is now orchestrated upon a lament of human loss.  Summer’s bright sun, blooming flowers, and a present lady of the house gives way to winter’s “frozen tops,” weeping trees, and an absent Clifford (143).  This is a vision of nature that is dutiful to human desire, and not ecologically engaged with the climate of the area.   The text asserts a new symbolic relationship to the English countryside, one in which trees grow for humans, instead of next to them, around them.  The life and death of the plant life demonstrates how human influence has been constructed as the central, controlling force in this space.  The very lives of these servants depend on Clifford — the servant could not live without the master.  The text then raises questions of dependency given that the local geography and animal life provide for the family’s necessities of existence: who supports the life of whom?  Again, the function of the text is to facilitate the idea of Clifford’s authority through these “naturally” occurring hierarchies — Cookham retains its vibrancy and vitality in its administrator.

  In fact, a closer reading of the diction used to describe Clifford and her interactions with the local geography reveals that the lady of the house is not only the source of life and purpose for the estate’s natural landscape, but the transformations that take place are very acutely involved in the politics of the country house genre.   University of Minho professor Paula Guimaraes argues that Lanyer is using the poem to “metonymically” overturn “the legal system of patrilineal descent” (1).  The text is attempting to give a particular image of the Cookham estate to justify Clifford’s place at the head of her own feminine locus amoenus — an idealized space of safety and comfort.  As I’ve discussed, the text does this by territorializing the local ecology to illustrate the gravity of Clifford’s presence and thus her viability as a female leader.  To make the vital connection between the “patterns of interaction” that constitute Deleuze and Guattari’s territorialization and the metonymic argument for female property rights, I’d like to return for a moment to line twenty-one of the poem when the speaker explains that every “walk,” or servant on the estate, put on their “summer liveries” and that the rest of the house followed suit “like similes.” This initial observation is significant because its sentiment establishes the class relations for the rest of the poem.  

After using the colon to compare the flora of Cookham to servants, as discussed above, the poem begins to construct a system of signs that aligns nonhuman life with these indentured servants. The text continually characterizes the natural world as if  the flora and fauna are an extension of Clifford’s human subjects.  The trees jump at the opportunity to “shade the bright sun” from her eyes, “honored” to “support” her in any way they can (26-46).  The “halls, vales, and woods” are “plainly” on “bended knee” in a position of supplication, as if to “salute” her “honor” or make a “suit” to her authority (67-68).  Greenblatt, et al. talk about how Lanyer’s use of the word “suit” in this line is referring the feudal practice of petitioning a “monarch” (1437).  Further on, the text claims that Cookham’s “brooks and crystal springs” are beautiful enough to “please the eyes of kings,” and then asserts that the “thirteen shires” that appear in Clifford’s “sight” are the envy of “Europe” (72-4).  By applying diction concerning the eye to both “kings” generally and also Clifford specifically, the text is metonymically connecting Clifford to formal institutions of authority.  The repetitive orbital diction that spans these lines allows Clifford to see through the same authorial gaze as sovereigns of the continent.  As well, by placing the word “and” at the beginning of line 73, the text is verifying that her “thirteen shires” are parallel to the European states described in the previous line, suggesting that Clifford is in fact the ruler of her own territory.  The text is aligning Clifford with those in charge of nations in order to further the idea of female ownership.  Margaret’s daughter, Anne, is able to inherit this social position as well, her beauty alone demanding the “love and duty” of both the human servants and the nonhuman “hills, vales, and woods” (102).  The text also continues to emphasize the “orbs of state” — the class distinctions that separate the Clifford family from their subjects on their estate and in the natural world (107).  Finally, in royal fashion, Clifford says goodbye to every “sad creature” when she leaves Cookham for her family’s property in the north of England, demonstrating her “noble grateful mind” (149-152).  By the end of the poem, even the speaker feels bound to the lady of the house by “those rich chains” of noble virtue (210).  Here we see again that the text is illustrating the difference between land and property — Clifford is directly responsible for the land’s submission into a state of property and the pathetic fallacy makes this difference seem innate.  

Guimaraes claims that Lanyer instigates this ideological reframing of the local ecology as a network of servants in order to support the position of female authorship and land ownership.  By creating a “protected space” of solely feminine authority, Lanyer “enables female articulation,” creating a “place for herself and for women in the highly stratified, gender-conscious world of Jacobean society” (Guimaraes 8).  The text territorializes the English countryside using the pathetic fallacy in order to articulate a certain set of desirable social conditions for Clifford.  Moreover, Lanyer is repeatedly using the pathetic fallacy in order to show the validity of female leadership and imagine the conditions with which a woman has complete control over her surroundings in the absence of men.  The text bends the local ecology to Clifford’s every whim in order to demonstrate how noble women might effortlessly curate an authority down to every blade of grass.  Characterizing the geography of the estate in this way allows Lanyer’s proto-feminist ideology to not only dictate a series of social relations within Cookham, but allows this new set of signs to territorialize the land.  This reality of the country house poem, its process of remapping the physical terrain to support the patron’s claims at social prestige, is why Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of territorialization is crucial for understanding the genre.  Ultimately, “A Description” is not involved in describing a set of “variable matter or places,” but a “mental landscape” (Guimaraes, 8).  The country house poem allows the  “English aristocrat” to not just seek out a legal stake on their physical estate but a “panegyric” claim to be the “providential administrator” of “Nature” in the form of “land, household, and tenants” (Guimaraes 9).  The latter claim rests upon the text’s ability to territorialize the patron’s property to reflect their divine right to the class of the landed elite.  If Deleuze and Guattari find that this personal identity of an administrator is constructed through a series of particular habits within a certain physical domain, and spatial territory is defined by the cultural signs that inhabit this specific space, then we might discuss the construction of Clifford’s identity as an aristocrat by the social milieu of the territory she inhabits: Clifford is ultimately defined by the character of her surroundings.  Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of territory thus helps us understand that Cookham receives its essential character as a locus amoenus for female authority and authorship because the text imagines the servitude of the countryside.  Clifford’s place as the female head of an estate is justified by imagining that the natural world is submitting to her authority.  Clifford is the administrator of Cookham because the text has written the natural world to treat her that way.  As I will discuss later, these metaphors of service are even more deeply intertwined with the politics of the country house genre.

***

Two other country house poems, “To Penshurst” and “Upon Appleton House” not only share this tendency to territorialize the local ecology, but are also engaged with securing the property rights of the patron’s family.  In “Upon Appleton House,” when Maria Fairfax arrives at Nunappleton, the sight of her family’s estate, the text begins to repeat the same tropes as seen in “A Description.”  Maria hushes “the world” with her beauty and rectitude, the sun begins to “descend with greater care,” and the fish “hang” stupefied (662-682).  “Nature” is turned to glass in her presence (688).  The landscape of Nunappleton only serves to embody the speaker’s awe at Maria.  The artifice of this territorialized ecosystem is especially transparent in “To Penshurst”: organisms have almost never willingly laid down their lives so that humans could celebrate, as they are shown to do in this piece.  The speaker of Jonson’s “To Penshurst” talks about how the “copse” and the “Medway” river will provide for the “mess” hall of the estate when the servants and nobility join together once a year to feast (26-30).  In this idyllic feudal setting, birds, fish, and fruit willingly participate in the festivities by giving up their lives.  Both the “purpled pheasant” and the “painted partridge” lie down in the fields, “willing to be killed” (28-30).  Unlike “A Description” and “Upon Appleton,” the countryside exists here to be consumed instead of serving as an ornament.  However, once again, nature is removed from its own will to live in exchange for the social signs of service.

However, when confronted with sections of Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House,” an argument that invariably condemns the country house genre to pure exploitation becomes problematic.  In the later stanzas of the text, the speaker discusses how he wishes to merge with the natural world of Nunappleton.  After the flooding of the Nunappleton estate has redeemed the area of the ravages of the poem’s metaphorical treatment of the English Civil War, the speaker considers the religious potential of the woods surrounding the mansion.  “Retiring from the flood,” the speaker takes “sanctuary in the wood” in order to delve into spirituality of the natural world.  The forest provides a “green, yet growing arc” of mental respite from the tumultuousness of the war, as described.  Delivered by the arc of the forest from this turmoil, the “arching boughs” form a “temple green” through which he might spiritually — and even physically — become territorialized by the environment. This represents a complete reversal of the treatment of nature in “A Description” and “To Penshurst”. The text does not solely use the local ecology of the estate to establish and prop up the nobility of the patron; instead, the speaker allows his own mind, soul, and body to become incorporated in the process of territorialization, the natural world exerting an influence on his lived experience. Unlike “A Description,” this text does not imagine the natural world through a series classed metaphors; rather, the natural world in “Upon Appleton House” is able to reverse these roles of servitude and lay claim to the speaker’s consciousness.  Instead of rethinking the local ecology under notions of “property” and “servitude,” the speaker’s transcendent experience in the woods of Nunappleton forces him to reconsider his position of superiority and ownership.  He seeks Christian transcendence through mentally and physically inhabiting aspects of the plants and animals of the woods, placing himself in a position of awe and supplication instead of superiority.

Some of the last stanzas in “Upon Appleton House” represent an entire gestalt shift of the country house genre, proceeding from anthropomorphic metaphors, to a series of “zoomorphic” language that works to territorialize the human body and mind with natural attributes. The text raises a series of questions about the relationship between the country house genre and the natural world, the most important of which being: What does mean in an anthropomorphic genre to have a human body that is claimed and territorialized by the natural world?  What it might point to is a more accurate reading of the English relationship to the natural world.  Marvell has flipped Lanyer’s image of the English countryside on “bended knee”  on its head, representing nature not to support a position of social class but to investigate the possibility of nature as a pathway towards Christian salvation.  The text emphatically works to decenter the speaker’s role within the poem and marginalizes human influence to that of nature’s, narrowing the distance between the speaker’s ego and the environment.  

Marvell populates the “temple green” with “birds and trees” that he can “confer” with as an “easy philosopher” (561- 62).  In the role of the lay philosopher, the speaker is made into an observer and a passive participant of the Nunappleton woods, instead of as an administrator as one could expect. The speaker demands the “wings” of the “fowl” so that he may “fly” on “the air” (564-6).  The text continues to merge the speaker’s mind and the seeming consciousness of the natural environment. Although he “want[s]” their language, the “bird upon the bough” can still “divine” any “signs” the speaker is sending its way.  Standing attentive to each other as if stuck to “twigs” smeared with a sticky birdlime, the speaker and the bird form a connection that precipitates through the following stanzas (574). He explains that very “little” of his person could “want” to be closer to the forest (563).  He is witness to the “strange prophecies” of the seer “Sibyl,” held within every “leaf” that “does tremble in the wind” (575-77).  He reads the religious and philosophic lessons of “Rome, Greece” and “Palestine,” referencing both Biblical and Classical authorities, from the “Mosaic light” of “nature’s mystic book” (581-4). The speaker imagines himself as a “prelate” of the “grove,” enhancing his religious “studies” by creating a “mask” of embroidered “caterpillars,” “oak-leaves,” and “ivy,” (586-592).  The mask discussed in stanza 74 is one of the more salient and easily visible examples of territorialization in this text.  Nonhuman life is physically and ideologically covering the face, the feature of the body that is treated as the “material locus for signification and subjectification” (Hardt).  The human ego is transgressed upon by the spiritual influence of this “temple green.”  The human body, as a Deleuzian territory, is being ideologically remapped with new signifiers and hence, so is the speaker’s mind, the mental symbol of the environment covering the anthropogenic.  

The reconfiguration of the speaker’s body then becomes increasingly religious and even sexual.  The “brambles” and “briars” “nail” him through, and ensnare him in “silken bondage,” his form religiously consumed into the “temple green” (614-16).  Nailed down by the thorns of the forest, he is lead down a “lane” in the woods by a “guard on either side,” bringing the speaker to face his “Lord” (618-20).  Finally, they symbolically “stake” him down where the river “did lately drown,” the sight of the redemption of the flood (623-4).  This imagery is reenacting Christ’s crucifixion, using religion to incorporate the speaker’s body into the natural world.  The capture of Christ by Roman soldiers and their repetitive puncturing of his skin are acted out by trees as Roman sentries and thorns as their spears.  The speaker’s body might be thought of as a space that can also be territorialized.  When the plant life of the woods ruptures his skin and binds his limbs, the speaker’s body is being redefined by a new set of natural signifiers of the Nunappleton’s environment.

The text explains this process of merger and new understanding by using the metaphor of the “inverted tree” (568).  This notion of the “arbor inversa” illustrates the “lofty nature of man;” humans are the only beings that are “more of heaven than of earth” (Chambers 292).  Greenblatt et al. talk about how this “originally classical” idea of the inverted tree came to influence Marvell’s poetry, inscribing new discursive pathways upon the body (1827).  In Plato’s discourse, Timaeus, the narrator by the same name talks about how the soul is located in the “summit of the body,” lifting the subject upwards by the human mind’s “celestial affinity,” as if the human “root” were invested “not in earth, but in the heavens” (Chambers 292).   In Aristotle’s On the Parts of Animals, the philosopher talks about how the arbor inversa “has its upper parts below and its nether parts above,” giving the roots “the character and value of the mouth and head” (Chambers 294).  The Nunappleton forest instigates a revolution in the speaker’s thoughts — the “turn” of the inverted tree toward the heavens — by transforming the geography of his body (568). When the speaker grows wings or is punctured by briars, the text is demonstrating how the body is being territorialized by the spiritual effects of “admiring nature” (672).  The poem does not simply territorialize the woods as another set of servants on top of those human ones already indentured to the estate, but instead evidences how a local ecology is responsible for generating its own set of signs upon human behavior and the human body.  Even though the poem does not completely divorce itself from the anthropocentric tropes of “A Description,” what is notable about “Upon” is the way in which the geography of Nunappleton is not simply ideologically territorialized, but realizes scenes in which the plants, birds, and streams of the poem can impact the human soul and reveal the roots of the mind to heaven.  The text allows biological boundaries to be corrupted so that the speaker’s own mind may be “inverted” by the psychic effects of the forest.  Given both the presence of anthropocentric and zoomorphic territorialization, “Upon” might been seen as constructing a multi-directional exchange of influence, allowing both these metaphors to coexist through an interplay of biology.  The text’s language opens up discursive pathways that permit the human and nonhuman to mix the signs of their respective territory.

This multi-directional channel of territorialization is in direct contrast to Lanyer’s purely anthropocentric poem; the texts are involved in the ideological reimagination of spaces as a literary and philosophical technique for different reasons.  “A Description” is heavily influenced by the desire to secure Margaret Clifford’s entitlement to the Cookham property.  The ownership of property, underneath the cloud of legal inheritance, also finds legitimacy in the historical tradition of feudalism.  In an age of increasing capitalist influence, to vindicate the passage of land down a family lineage is a sign of nostalgia and commitment of age-old institutions (Guimaraes 10). Land ownership for the aristocracy necessitates a specific relationship to the indentured servants that live on the property (Guimares 10).  The English aristocrat does not only own the land but the people tied to it (Guimares 10).  “A Description” territorializes the nonhuman geography of Cookham with the behavioral codes of the human servants tied to this land.  Supporting this noble’s right to land ownership becomes ironically even more important given the uncommon decision to place a woman at the head of a household. On the other hand, “Upon Appleton” is exploring the ways in which the territorialization of the local ecology might be reversed back onto the human body to provide a very physical translation of the way in which the spiritual excess that the speaker finds in the Nunappleton woods has impacted his own pathways of thought.  The text describes how he has “shed” his old “thoughts” and allowed the “trees” to become “encamped” in his “mind” (599-602).  The speaker’s consciousness becomes territorialized as an inverted tree in order to show the religious potential of the natural world.  While the anthropomorphism of “A Description” seeks to justify a specific understanding of class relationships and ownership, the zoomorphism of “Upon Appleton” hints that the ideological surface of the human body might not only transmit its characteristics onto the natural world, but be able to be territorialized itself by the transcendent character of the nonhuman.  While Lanyer’s text specifically operates to reify the aristocratic tradition, Marvell appears to be more preoccupied with a fluid conception of power that expands both ways, vectors extending outwards from human and nonhuman, under the scripture of the “mystic book” (Marvell 584).

Territorialization is important to understanding these two relationships to the natural world because of the way in which language orders the construction of preconceptions within the human consciousness.  Bradd Shore, anthropology professor at Emory University, talks about the way in which the mind is trapped within the “prisonhouse of language” (1).  The way in which human beings talk about the spaces they interact with ultimately comes to order the way in which cultures can conceive of their relationship with these geographies (Shore, 1).  Both Lanyer and Marvell are involved in a discourse that is responsible for constructing English ideas of both property and Christian transcendence as they relate to nature.  Territorialization is a lens through which we might understand how the authors are using language to springboard connections between nature and these other cultural formations. If language orders all human thought then by creating these connections between ideological territories, the authors are setting new semiotic boundaries for the ideas of anglophone culture.  For example, “A Description” is  jockeying between two competing definitions of “nature.” One, in which “nature” constitutes the world opposed to humans and its artificial creations, has existed since 1400 (OED).  And another which began to describe something akin to a person or animal’s innate qualities in the late twelfth century (OED).  The text’s language of the pathetic fallacy works by ideologically reconstituting the “nature” (innate qualities) of the surrounding “nature” (the nonhuman world).  Nietzsche claims that to think within the “prison house of language” casts a sense of “doubt” around the philosopher as they try to discover whether the discursive “limit we see is really a limit” of the intelligibility of their ideas (Shore, 1).  Territorialization is a lens for understanding how these boundaries of intelligibility of language are translated into the boundaries and symbolic character of spaces.

We might see the ancestors of these authors approaching the discursive limits of the property and nature in contemporary treatment of the subjects.  The extensive landscaping that surrounds today’s mansions evidences the continuing desire to transform the natural environment in support of the idea that the limits of property do not stop at the four walls of the country house.  Even something as simple as a well-maintained lawn of grass speaks to the effort to territorialize nature in order to demonstrate the administrator’s mastery of the land.  This desire to demonstrate social class continues to be an influence on the West’s relationship with the natural world. Beyond conspicuously showing the wealth and power of its patron, landscaping’s attempts at appearing naturalistic try to convince the viewer that the essential character of the space and its messages about the authority of its landlord are divinely inspired.  Lanyer, Jonson, and Marvell evidence how even ideological landscaping, through the territorializing function of the pathetic fallacy and the country house genre, works to engineer the West’s relationship with the natural world. ■

 

Bibliography

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Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press. Print. P.99-101

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century; the Early Seventeenth Century. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print.

Guimaraes, Paula. “Refashioning English Estate as Feminine Paradise: Aemilia Lanyer’s Country-house Poem ‘The Description of Cookham’ (1610)”, Diacrítica: Série Literatura, Centro de Estudos Humanísticos da Universidade do Minho, 2012.

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