Literature Annotations

Jonson, Ben
On My First Sonne

Genre Poem
KeywordsChildren, Death and Dying, Father-Son Relationship, Grief, Love, Mourning, Parenthood

Ben Jonson wrote this elegy after the death in 1603 of his eldest son, Benjamin, aged seven. The poet addresses the boy, bidding him farewell, and then seeks some meaning for his loss. Jonson blames himself, rhetorically at least, arguing that he hoped too much for his son, who was only on loan to him. Now that the seven years are up, the boy has had to be returned.

Jonson tries to argue that this is only fair and his presumptuous plans for the boy's future were the cause of his present sense of loss. He then questions his own grief: why lament the enviable state of death when the child has escaped suffering and the misery of aging? He cannot answer this question, simply saying "Rest in soft peace" and asking that the child, or perhaps the grave, record that his son was Jonson's "best piece of poetry," the creation of which he was most proud. He concludes by vowing that from now on he will be more careful with those he loves; he will be wary of liking and so needing them too much.

CommentaryThe poem is a moving exploration of a father's feelings on the loss of his son, made all the more poignant by the difference between its affectionate, resigned tone and Jonson's usually satirical and biting comic voice.
SourceComplete Poetry of Ben Jonson
PublisherNew York Univ. Press
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousWritten c.1603
Annotated by Belling, Catherine
Date of Entry 07/02/97