How does Ben Jonson use language and structure to convey the message of the poem "On my first Sonne"?

Essay by deepesh April 2004

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"On my first Sonne" is a poem where Jonson describes his reaction to sorrow when his first son dies. Jonson confronts conflict, loss and despair when "Ben Jonson his best piece of poetrie" was "exacted by fate, on the just day". He uses his son as an inspiration in this poem and describes his different stages that he has gone through by using language and structural features in this poem.

The structural layout in this poem suggests that a progression of ideas is taking place. The first five lines indicate struggle, conflict, loss and despair. He experiences shock and guilt as he says, "My sinne was too much hope of thee, loved boy". The feeling then develops to acceptance in line six, where he asks rhetorically "For why will man lament the state he should envie?" Jonson then follows this statement with various points trying to argue his bitterness and guilt.

Simultaneously, he resolves his feelings in the last lines by saying "For whose sake henceforth, all his vowes be such,"

Throughout the poem, modality in verbs changes, this supports the idea mentioned above. Jonson uses low modalities and conditional phrases at the beginning of the poem to show doubt, confusion and guilt. Because of the progression of ideas throughout the poem, the modality in the verbs change from low and conditional to high modality and declarative. He shows this by using this phrase at line nine: "REST in soft peace, and, asked, SAY here doth LYE." These contrasts with the phrase used in line five when he says "O, COULD I loose all father now?" which has a low modality.

Jonson uses part rhyme in the words "Sonne", "sinne", "soone" and "Jonson" to link them together. This highlights the development of ideas and the motif of the poem.