Discussion Topic

Literary terms and diction in Ben Jonson's "On My First Son."

Summary:

In "On My First Son," Ben Jonson uses literary terms and diction to express his profound grief and love for his deceased son. The poem employs metaphors, such as referring to his son as his "best piece of poetry," and uses formal, elevated language that conveys the depth of his sorrow and the significance of his loss.

Expert Answers

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

What literary terms are used in Ben Jonson's "On My First Son"?

By literary terms, I take you to mean what are commonly called literary devices, ways to enhance a piece of writing that go beyond bare-bones factual (literal) information. Literary devices make a piece of literature more interesting than simply a dry cataloguing of facts would.

If Jonson were just giving us only the facts, he would tell us he is sad his young son died. He would question why he is so upset when he knows his son is in heaven. He would say his son was a good person. He would determine to be more detached in the future about people he loves so that he wouldn't get so upset again if they die.

That's pretty dull but by using literary devices, Jonson helps us feel his acute, personal grief. For instance, he uses the literary device of apostrophe when he speaks to his dead son. Apostrophe occurs when a poet directly addresses an object or dead or absent person. By opening the poem saying "farewell" to his son, he creates a sense of personal intimacy.

Another literary device Jonson uses is rhyming couplets, such as "boy/joy" and "age/rage." These create a pleasing sense of rhythm and help the poem become easier to remember.

Jonson employs metaphor, a comparison not using the words like or as, when he compares his son to poetry, saying his son was his finest poem or creation. This is a particularly poignant tribute as Jonson was a famous and celebrated poet.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What literary terms are used in Ben Jonson's "On My First Son"?

The poem is one of Ben Jonson's Epigrams, which was a collection of poetry published around 1603.  It incorporates the use of metaphors, where a statement is applied to an object or action that isn't usually applicable -- consider the opening line, where Jonson alludes to himself through the Christian concept of "God the Father," with the "Son sitting at the right hand of the Father."  He immediately contrasts this image of "God the Father" in the next line, by admitting of the "sin" of loving his son too much -- creating a simile by comparing a human father's love for his son, as "God the Father" loved his son Jesus in Christian theology.  There are a few other examples of the use of metaphors and similes within the poem....

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What type of diction does Ben Jonson use in "On My First Son"?

I'm not quite sure. It's an odd mix of the absolutely colloquial and personal, and a slightly arch, grander style.

The first four lines, addressing the son are particularly colloquial:

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.

He addresses the child as "lov'd boy", and in the more colloquial "thou" rather than the more formal "you". Yet then the poem becomes a little more abstract, addressing bigger themes in a more formal, rhetorical fashion:

Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
    And if no other misery, yet age !

'World's and flesh's rage' sounds to me at once more grand and more formal. It becomes, if you like, more consciously a piece of poetry: speaking as 'man', rather than as one person. It heightens itself: ready for its conclusion:

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.

At once, Jonson teaches his young child a new phrase "Here doth lie...", and formalises his child and his life into a formal poem. And then, the final couplet addresses itself in a more poetic way: "all his vows be such /As what he loves...", with a self conscious riddling phrase at the end.

So the answer is ultimately formal diction. But it begins more colloquially - and I reckon you could argue it either way.

Hope it helps!

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
Last Updated on