One of my favorite professors always encouraged his students to regularly memorize a poem. Even before my younger son was born, I carried Ben Jonson's "On My First Sonne" around in my head...and in my heart. It has long been my inclination when walking through graveyards to study the number of young children that a family may have lost. The despair and power of human existence seem to float upward from the headstones. I find it at once tragic and inspirational. It was not a conscious decision to directly address my son (see the poem from March 28 post), it just seemed to flow out in first person. Now I realize, that I was composing my own joyous counterpoint to Jonson's heartbreaking elegy to his first born son who died on his 7th birthday. After reading just this poem, it is easy to appreciate the inscription marking Jonson's tomb in Westminster Abbey where he rests in Poets' Corner next to Chaucer: "O rare Ben Jonson"
The portrait is by Abraham Blyenberch, circa 1617.
On My First Son
FAREWELL, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou 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 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and asked, 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."