On My First Son

by Ben Jonson
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Explain the tone in Ben Jonson's poem "On My First Son."

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The tone of the poem is one of sadness. Jonson is expressing his grief at death of his oldest son, aged seven.

For all that he knows, his son is in a better place, but Jonson cannot shake his sense of loss. He calls his departed son his "joy" and...

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The tone of the poem is one of sadness. Jonson is expressing his grief at death of his oldest son, aged seven.

For all that he knows, his son is in a better place, but Jonson cannot shake his sense of loss. He calls his departed son his "joy" and his "lov'd boy." He says his "sin" was placing too much hope in this son. He is paying now for having a father's deep attachment to a child, and he wishes he could shed a father's strong feelings and gain a sense of detachment. At this point in the poem, his emotions reach a crescendo of grief, indicated by the "O" and the exclamation point: "O, could I lose all father now!"
Jonson shows his painful sense of loss overwhelming his rational mind, which tells him that he should not be sad. He tries to comfort himself that his son has gone to heaven, saying,
For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scap'd world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Nevertheless, he does lament. He calls his beloved son his "best piece of poetry" and hopes that in the future, what he loves he never grows so attached to again.
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The tone of a poem is the speaker's attitude or the position they take toward the subject of the poem. In this poem, Ben Jonson at first adopts a melancholy and regretful tone as he bids "farewell" to the child he dubs "of my right hand." This phrase recalls the descriptions in the Bible of those who sit at the right hand of God: it indicates the esteem in which the lost child was held and underscores the depth of Jonson's regret at the loss of that son.

That the speaker feels at a loss, uncertain and questioning, because of what has happened is made evident through the use of rhetorical questions. However, as the poem goes on, the speaker's tone changes: he is wondering why he should be sad that his child has, at least, escaped the miseries of "age" and other difficulties. The tone becomes contemplative as the speaker questions whether he should, in fact, "envy" the fact that this child has been released from the world. Finally, he bids the child "rest in soft peace," and his tone has become increasingly resigned to the reality of what has happened. While the child's death was painful for him, he ultimately accepts that this was the best thing for his son, who was his best work.

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Before I answer that question, let's review the definition of "tone". 

Tone is a literary device that indicates the emotion the author intends to communicate in his/her work, conveyed through word choice, syntax, and figurative language. 

In "On my First Son" by Ben Jonson, the tone ranges from sadness to confusion to melancholy. He begins the poem by bidding farewell to his son and to happiness: "thou child of my right and, and joy." As he reveals, his son has died in his childhood at the age of seven, for only "seven years tho' wert lent to me." 

In line 5, Jonson's punctuation abruptly shifts to incorporate an exclamation, in which he cries out in anger and despair, "O, could I lose all father now!" With his son gone, he is no longer the father he once was, and his identity has also been affected by this loss. 

In the same line, Jonson begins to barrage himself with questions, asking himself why "man lament the state he should envy." Jonson goes on to discuss the many disadvantages of life that are avoided by an early death, implying that he finds his own sadness inappropriate to the situation and should instead feel pleased for his son. 

Finally, Jonson reverts to melancholy, noting that his son was his best piece of work, thereby tying his career into the death of his son as well. 

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