The persona in the poem is a father who just lost his son. The son is just 7 years old when he dies and according to the poem, the death occurs on the child’s 7th birthday (4). The father is filled with grief since he loved his son very much and also because he feels that it will be impossible to love someone that much. The father feels this way as he cannot bear to experience such pain again. These sentiments can be interpreted to mean that Ben is not ready to have another child as he has lost his first one who he loved so much. Jonson feels that it is as though the child was lent to him for the 7 years that he was alive; he now believes that God has taken back what He had given him (3).
It is worth pointing out that the phrase “seven years” (3) used by Jonson was also a common phrase at the time the poem was written; loans were given for a period of 7 years and hence why Jonson believes that his son was lent to him since he was taken back 7 years after he got him- same as a loan. According to Jonson (2), his sin was that he had too much expectation for his child and this is the reason his son was taken away from him.
Jonson refers to his child as ‘the child of my right hand’ (1). This is symbolical of God’s son Jesus Christ who is also referred to as being the right hand son of God. Hence, when Jonson says in the second stanza that his sin was in loving his son too much it shows that he believes that he is being punished for loving his son more than God. Since the poem is a short one it does not give enough evidence whether Jonson believed this to be the reason his son died or he was just looking for a scapegoat to help him get over the tragedy. The second argument is supported by the fact that during the time the poem was written, the plague epidemic was rampant and hence the likelihood that Jonson’s son died from plague is high. However since the child was called Benjamin, which means ‘right hand’, the usage of the words right hand may not necessarily be an allusion to the story of Christ.
Perhaps the reason why Jonson loved his son so much is because he saw him as a comforter when old age would come (7&8). The persona hence feels the loss of the future he hoped for and thus the reason for the elegy.
As I read through this poem, it reminds me that not all our aspirations come to pass. Sometimes what we hold so dearly in our lives ends up causing us a lot of pain when we lose it. Take the case of Jonson who had placed a lot of hope on a future with his son, only for the child to die before this future could happen.
The way that Jonson tries to lay the blame on himself and God for the death of his son also showcases a common trait in human beings when they lose something of value; they just cannot accept that the loss may not have been their own doing. Jonson tries to console himself by blaming the death on the love he had for his son while in actual sense the death was caused by plague which had nothing to do with the love. This is the same case even when no death is involved, for example when some people get divorced they carry the burden of wishing they would have done some things differently while in actual sense the reason for the divorce may not be of their own doing.
It is surprising to note that human behavior evident today was still there at the time this poem was written; many years ago. Jonson has just lost a son and he believes that he will never love anyone that much again. This is a common trend in human beings after such a tragedy or being hurt by a loved one; they are quick to conclude that their love life is over. What they forget is that the heart is never told when to love or not, it just happens and so no one can say with surety that they will never love again.
The poem also relates to current human conditions when Jonson says that he had been lent his son. He speaks like someone who had forgotten that all human beings will at one point die. The moment his son was born he should have been aware that the same fate awaited him. Jonson’s grief is also aggravated by the fact that it is normal for parents to die before their children and not vice-versa. Like many parents today, he believed that his child would only die after him and hence when the contrary occurs he feels as if the child was unfairly taken from him. He now sees the child as a loan belonging to someone else and not him.
Ben Jonson, “On My First Son” Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, Inc., 2006. Print.