The poetic achievement of Ben Jonson’s “On My First Son” can be realised by a consideration of elegy as a poetic form and its emotional appeal, as well as Jonson’s conciseness and vividness of speech. Jonson successfully uses a range of tropological and figurative devices to evoke a sense of empathy and pity, in mourning the loss of his son. In addition, Jonson effectively conveys a Father’s sense of lament through the themes of sin and judgement. Thus it is Jonson’s use of the traditional structure of the elegy, which achieves an autobiographical tone with a range of euphonic sounds and economy of expression.
By analysing Jonson’s use of the elegy, this poetic mode of presentation reveals ...view middle of the document...
Additionally, this line is written in the hexameter, with the extra syllables, known as the hypermeter, slowing down the pace of the poem. Conversely, the lack of stanzas of “On My First Son” offers a unique form of presentation that provides the poem with a conversational tone. Thus, it is this economy of expression and conciseness that can be considered defining features of Jonson’s work.
“On My First Son” provokes empathy from the reader, as Jonson’s impassioned grief is revealed by use of the tropological and intricate symbolism. It is this quality of representation that marks the technical and lyrical success of the poem. For instance, throughout the poem Jonson focuses on metaphors surrounding judgement and paying a price for one’s sins. The antithesis of “My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy” exemplifies the guilt that Jonson feels regarding the death of his son. The idea that his son “wert lent to me, and I thee pay,” symbolises Jonson’s belief that he must receive atonement for his sins. Furthermore the personification and end-stopped line of “Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.” implies that this notion of guilt and morality is intertwined again, in paying a price for happiness. This quality of representation can be realised by these pivotal lines:
“To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age!
Rest in soft peace, and, asked say here doth lie“
The metaphor and sibilance of “’so soon scaped world’s and flesh’s rage” evokes the dilemma Jonson faces; is his son happier in heaven rather than living on the Earth? Whereas the irony of “no other misery, yet age!” serves as the realisation that our time on Earth is short. Jonson’s exclamation, is the climax of the emotional appeal of this poem, where he tells his son to “Rest in soft peace”; a more nuanced version of the “rest in peace” phrase. Thus, it is Jonson’s use of tropological language that creates this delicate but restrained tone.
“On My First Son” also contains a brilliant conciseness of tone and a figurative, conversational quality that allows the reader to relate to the autobiographical aspects of Jonson’s words. For example, this is seen in the apostrophe and rhetorical question of
“O, could I lose all father now. For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?”
These lines juxtapose Jonson’s sense of loss in comparison to the idea that mourning is nonsensical. Jonson realises that...