Student Question

What is the tone contrast between Ben Jonson's "On My First Son" and "Song to Celia"?

Expert Answers

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The tone of a poem is the mood or emotion it conveys. The tone of "On My first Son," is one of deep and sincere grief for the loss of a beloved child, as the opening lines reveal:
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
In this poem, Jonson is lamenting the loss of his young son. He tries to comfort himself that his son is in a better place and has escaped the horrors of aging, but his heart is nevertheless full of pain at the loss.
"Song to Celia" is about the speaker's unrequited love for Celia. He loves her but she shows she does not love him when he returns the wreath he has sent her. The tone of this poem is one of desperation for the beloved and the wish to keep hope alive. The speaker expresses his desire for Celia through exaggeration, saying that the wreath he sent would not have withered if it had stayed in her presence and that now, although returned, it comes back carrying her scent. Its tone is far more stylized—more a conventionalized love poem tone—than the sincerely grieved tone of "On My first Son." In Celia, the speaker plays a courtly love game; in Son, the lament is deep and real.

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