In this moving poem, Ben Jonson writes about his son, Benjamin, who died on his seventh birthday of the plague. Thus the poem begins as you might expect with the farewell to a dead son. The speaker regrets having forgotten that the child was merely lent to him by God. He consoles himself with the thought that his son is now free of the pains of living and of growing old. In the last lines, the speaker offers an epitaph for his son, calling him "his best piece of poetry":
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry;
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much."
He concludes with a vow never again to "like too much" what he loves.
Interestingly, the central ideas of death that are presented in this poem are quite depressing. Jonson concludes that since all are to be taken from him, he must hold himself back from loving "too much" so that when the inevitable happens and death claims them, he is not so sad and grief-stricken as he was with his son. Yet at the same time his comparison of his son with a poem suggests that non of his work could ever be as wonderful as his son was to him, and indicates perhaps a new perspective on life, showing Jonson that family is more important than his work. Thus one of the central themes of this memorable poem to my mind is how we cope with death and how it changes us. Jonson seems to recommend not loving "too much" in the poem, yet at the same time his epigram suggests an emphasis on the family that clearly indicates enjoying and loving them greatly, in spite of the fear of death.