On My First Daughter and on My First Son - Ben Jonson's Poems on the Death of His Children

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On My First Daughter and On My First Son
Ben Jonson's poems on the death of his children

Ben Jonson lived in the English Renaissance period when childhood mortality was very high due to health problems, diseases, lack of medicines and unhygienic life conditions. He got married to Anne Lewis in the early 1590s. Their first daughter, Mary was born in 1593 who died only six months later. Jonson wrote his poem On My First Daughter upon her death. His first son, Benjamin, born 1596, died of the plague in 1603 at age seven and Jonson wrote the poem On My First Son shortly after his death1.
On My First Daughter and On My First Son were both published with many other poems in Epigrams in the first folio collection of Ben Jonson's works in
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And so does her body, which is laid in her grave. The father now asks the heavy and dark earth in the last line that it should cover her body very gentle and with this picture we get an even sadder ending.
Ten years after the death of his daughter Ben Jonson wrote a similarly sad poem on a similarly tragic occasion. His seven years old son, Benjamin died of the plague in 1603. On My First Son (number XLV in the Epigrams) is a twelve line poem, just like the previous one and has a similar structure, though there are many differences, too. The poem starts surprisingly with a saying goodbye, where a mourning father says farewell to his first son. The father does not tell us the son's name, but there is a big hint in the first line: ”child of my right hand” that is the meaning of the name Benjamin. Benjamin is a biblical figure whose name means son of the right side, which is usually interpreted as son of goodness, fortune and happiness.4 Even though the father does not introduce his son to the readers by name, he gives a very short but nice desciption of him by just telling his name's etymology. In the second line we can see that the father takes responsibility on the son's death, saying that it is his fault/sin that he died, because he had too high expectations of him. Lines 3 and 4 contain that the boy was seven years old and that he was just lent by God for this short time to his

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