On My First Son

On My First Son

by Ben Johnson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace’, and, ask’d, 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.

Summary of On my First Son

  • Popularity of “On my First Son”: This poem was written by Ben Johnson, a great English poet. ‘On my First Son’ is a tragic short poem similar to a eulogy to his son after his short-lived life. It was first published in 1616. The poem reflects the grief and love of the speaker, who was seven years old at the time of passing. It also illustrates how the speaker justifies the death of his son.
  • “On my First Son” As a Representative of Death: This poem is a reflection of father’s pain and deep love for his son. The poem begins when the speaker bids farewell to his seven years old son whom he considers his right hand and a real joy. He says that his only sin is that he hopes too much for his deceased son that he would grow up and would do great things in his life. To him, seven years back, his birth brought happiness and joy for the family but now he gave his son back to God. He believes that God loaned his son for seven years before taking him back.
    Upon losing his son, the word ‘father’ does not please him anymore. As the poem continues, the speaker puts a question mark on his mourning. He believes that he should not mourn for his son’s death because he has gone to a better place. He has escaped from the sufferings and miseries of the world. Although the speaker consoles himself with this thought, yet he confesses that he will never love anyone like he loved his son.
  • Major Themes in “On my First Son”: Love, death, and loss are the major themes underlined in this poem. The poem centers around a father’s grief who has lost his young son. To him, his son was his source of happiness. He brought a bundle of joys in his life, but hours of pleasures are too short. The poet laments the early demise of his son. He also thinks death has liberated him from the worldly woes. It is through this piece the speaker conveys the idea that death is inevitable and one should enjoy life while there is still life.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “On my First Son”

Literary devices are very important elements used to bring richness to the texts. They also make readers understand the hidden meanings and themes. Ben Johnson has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /i / in “child of my right hand” and the sound of /oo/ in “O, could I lose all father now! For why.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /s/ in “To have so soon ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /s/ in “For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such”.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy”, “Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay” and “To have so soon ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage.”
  5. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question not asked to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. For example, “Will man lament the state he should envy?” and “And if no other misery, yet age?”
  6. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. Here, “piece of poetry” symbolizes his greatest accomplishment and “right hand” symbolizes the speaker’s strength.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “On my First Son”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Couplet: There are two constructive lines of verse in a couplet, usually in the same meter and joined by rhyme. This poem ends with a couplet, which usually reveals the central idea of the poem. For example,

“For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.”

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “such/much”, “joy/boy” and “pay/day.”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful for a lover to express his unbound love for a family member or a friend.

“For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.”