On My First Son

by Ben Jonson

Start Free Trial

What are the figures of speech in "On My First Son" by Ben Jonson?

Ben Jonson uses apostrophe, metaphor, and rhyming couplets to express his grief over the death of his son.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A figure of speech provides added meaning or added emphasis to a piece of writing. In Ben Jonson's "On My First Son," the speaker—Jonson himself—expresses his feelings of grief over the death of his son.

One figure of speech he uses is apostrophe. In apostrophe, the poet addresses an inanimate object or a person who is absent or dead. Here, Jonson speaks from the heart to his dead son:

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy

The rhyming couplets add a gentle sense of rhythm that helps the poet contain his outbreak of grief. The rhyme also puts the emphasis on these last words in the line.

Jonson uses metaphor, which is a comparison that does not use the words like or as. He compares his dead son to his poems, telling him he is the best piece of poetry he has ever written:

Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.

This is high praise, for Jonson was a famous, well-respected poet.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Certainly the main figure of speech that it is incredibly important to grasp to understand the poem as a whole comes in lines 3 and 4 of this excellent poem. Let us analyse these two lines in depth to explore Jonson's own feelings about his son and God:

Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,

Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.

This is thus an excellent metaphor in which Jonson compares his son to a loan from God that came due after seven years. Thus we can see that in this poem that is a poem of grief and sadness, Jonson is presenting the "ownership" of his son as not really being his, but being something that has been entrusted to him by God and was never truly "his" in the first place. This central metaphor acts as the base for the rest of the poem where Jonson tries to accept the fact that perhaps he "loved" his son too much.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team