Tuesday, 26 February 2013

'Farewell, thou child of my right hand'

It's 'Poetry corner' with another guest spot from my own Dad.

'Here's Ben Jonson writing about the death of his first son, who died of the plague in 1603. So tender and grieving – gives the lie, I think, to the easy assumption that because infant mortality was so high in those times (about a third of all children died before the age of ten) parents didn't feel their losses so much.'

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.

Ben Jonson

'Jonson was a mate of Shakespeare's, and Shakespeare also lost his only son Hamnet when Hamnet was only eleven; possibly he died of the plague too. One is tempted to see a reference to this in the following passage from one of his lesser-known plays 'King John':
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then have I reason to be fond of grief.

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