First Thing in the Mourning: How Two Great Poets Coped with Great Loss

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Each of us is defined to some degree by our suffering. When we experience a great loss, the grief can be overwhelming. We can become crippled by our emotions, plagued by questions, our faith is challenged. “On My First Son” by Ben Jonson describes a father’s tortuous conflict caused by the death of his firstborn son. John Milton searches for answers and self worth after he becomes blind in his sonnet [When I consider how my light is spent]. Both poems are powerful messages of pain and affirmation that address our universal need for connection. Each work is as relevant today as it was when it was written in the seventeenth century. Although they differ in form and the nature of their losses, each poem asks the same question: What is…show more content…
God “is kingly” with “thousands at his bidding” (line 12). Although many toil in service to God (line 13), “they also serve who only stand and wait” (line 14). Milton’s faith in a powerful and loving God sustains him in his darkness. The loss of a child is a terrible tragedy. When Ben Jonson writes about the death of his firstborn and namesake, it is obvious that he has not come to terms with his grief. He says goodbye to his son (line1) and reveals his piousness in line 2, “My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.” Young Ben was seven years old exactly on the day he died, “Exacted by thy fate, on the just day… “(line 4), which is an extended metaphor of a contract “…thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,” (line 3), Jonson pays his last respects, he pays tribute to his lost son. The cost is very high; Jonson prays to join his son,”O, could I lose all father now!” (line 5) as he desperately tries to console himself with the thought that his son is now safe from aging and suffering (lines 5-8). Jonson asks his son to “Rest in soft peace, and asked, say…” “…he is the best piece of poetry” (line 10) that Jonson has ever produced, his finest work. The final couplet (lines 11-12) reveals the enormity of his pain: For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such As what he loves may never like too much. Ben Jonson never wants to become so

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