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Please explain the poem "On My First Son" by Ben Jonson.  

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jasszie | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:42 PM via web

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Please explain the poem "On My First Son" by Ben Jonson.  

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:47 PM (Answer #1)

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Ben Johnson wrote a beautiful elegy lamenting the death of his son.  “On My First Son” was also written as an epigram.  This was style of poetry begun during the ancient Greek time which a short poem, often expressing a single idea that usually has a witty ending.

The narration is first person point of view with the poet as the narrator.  Ben Jonson was a grieving father whose seven year old son died.  He talks to the child because he loves him and wants to keep him alive in his memory.  The narrator further addresses the readers as he shares his thoughts on death.  Even more, the speaker is writing for himself.  He tries to make sense of the worst thing that can happen to a parent: the death of a child.

Jonson writes as if his dead son can hear or read his words. He calls him the child of his “right hand. This represents the great value of the boy to the poet and indicates that he would have been his heir.  The idea comes from the Bible.  It indicates the reference to Jesus, who sat on the right hand of God.

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy:

My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy:

Seven yers thou'wert lent to me... 

For seven years, God loaned this beautiful child to the poet.  The use of the symbolic loan is an extended metaphor which  expresses the idea that ultimately everyone belongs to God. God allows human beings to spend time on earth; then, he takes them back to be with him. The sin of the father is visited on the son.  He loved the son so much that maybe it was too much. 

In the last half of the poem, the poet refers to a paradox.  Man cries over the loss of the loved one; however,  if the boy is returning to God,  man should envy the one who has died.  The young boy will escape the hardships of life and the despair of growing old. 

Jonson, poet and father, wants to place on the tombstone of his son that the boy was the best of all the work that the poet has every done. In addition, the poet suggests that he will never surrender himself so much to love. He will never allow himself to get so attached to anyone or anything.

The death of a child brings so many emotions.  The great loss to the parents, the unfinished life, and the unknown future—all of these aspects of the child’s death settle on the spirit of the mourners. Death is beyond the control of man. 

The ones who have lost someone look desperately to find some meaning.  Placing himself in the place of the dead one, man hopes that he too will go to a better place. Because death is inevitable it is accepted as a part of life.  The death of a child does not seem the same as an adult.  Too much is left undone. 

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