The theme of the poem ‘On my first Sonne’, by Ben Jonson, is introduced through the title, where we are already informed that the poem will be about the poet’s first son. The poem begins with the word, ‘Farewell’, which leads us on to understand that this is a tragic goodbye that the poet is expressing. Jonson clearly is expressing his love and pride for his son when writing, ‘child of my right hand and joy’, which is a metaphor that refers to Jesus by mentioning ‘my right hand’, which symbolises how Jesus is God’s right hand, and conveys a father’s love and pride.
This comes right after farewell, which denotes that his son was a part of him, and the time has come to say goodbye. Through the method in which Jonson has written this poem, we come to understand how important his son was to him and how much he meant. By beginning a line with, ‘Ben’, is as though Jonson is dedicating this piece to him even after his death. This explains that his son is all he had, he expresses this further through, ‘Jonson his best piece of poetrie’, which shows what his son was worth.
Perhaps Ben was his only son, or his eldest son, since he began the poem by blaming himself as a father, ‘My sinne was too much hope of thee’, where he expected a lot out of his son and ends the poem with coming to terms with his death, ‘As what he loves may never like too much’. This is as though Jonson wraps up his feelings towards the death of his son, starting with blame, regret and hatred and ending with sorrow, peace and acceptance of the situation.
The type of love expressed in this poem is the love between a father and son, it’s the strong bond of family, and the knot that ties the two together has been torn. Jonson outlines this through writing ‘O, could I loose all father,now.’, which indicates how he has lost the sense of fatherhood altogether now that his son has passed away. Not only has he used onomatopoeia when writing ‘O’to express his loss, but he has also placed a fullstop after ‘now’, which is as though he is stressing on the time in which this tragic incident has occurred, the loss will always be present, it will never be in the past.
Through the language used by Jonson, we are able to understand his feelings towards the loss of Ben, ‘Seven yeeres tho’ wert lent to me’and ‘I thee pay’, suggesting Jonson was aware his son would only be on Earth for a short period of time. This again stresses on the religious aspect of their lives since it relates strongly to God’s benevolence that allowed him the happy times with his son. Using the word ‘pay’ indicates that Jonson feels guilty for having loved his son more than God so God has taken him back; therefore Jonson begins by blaming himself for his loss then comes to realise it is a message from God that he has been selfish so he has to accept the consequences of punishment.
Again, another religious note on the words carefully selected by Jonson, he writes ‘lent’, knowing that he is only borrowing his son from God, at the end of the day, he does not belong to him; he belongs to his Creator. On the other hand, looking at the poem Anne Hathaway, which is written from the point of view of Shakespeare’s wife, expresses another type of love; love between a husband and wife. Unlike Jonson, Anne Hathaway is able to express the loss of her husband through fond memories that they shared.
She is not holding on to the loss as though it is her fault, instead she holds on to it to cherish the times they shared together, ‘I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head’. The fact that she has used the word ‘hold’ suggests that she will not let the memories of his personality or their relationship slip away. Anne Hathaway also uses the method of metaphorical language by writing, ‘The bed we loved was a spinning world’, suggesting that their love is continuous and timeless rather than bitter. She mentions the ‘next best bed’ that her husband left her in his will suggests that she will always have Shakespeare and that death cannot part them since he was part of her daily life and always will be.
The use of the word ‘spinning’ goes on to suggest that their love was exciting, and their trip together will always be a fond memory leaving her world turning even though he has gone. The poet goes on to express the preciousness of their relationship by writing in depth how her world was ‘spinning’; of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas,/where he would dive for pearls.’ Firstly, the description of their world through her eyes is so overwhelming that it requires two lines of the verse. Secondly, she relates to their world as a search for the pearl, that Shakespeare has managed to dive for; this connotes the preciousness of their love.
Lastly, the description describes the atmosphere of different worlds, in this case a forest, then castles then cliff tops and seas, which all string together as the journey of love that the two took in their time together, the excitement of each world that they shared and that they were visitors and strangers but it was fine because they were together. Anne Hathaway relates to writing through her writing, where she expresses her husband’s love towards her by writing, ‘his touch/ a verb dancing in the centre of a noun’, as though the love was always unexpected; it was always a fulfilment of excitement both emotionally and physically.
Similar to Jonson’s poem, Anne Hathaway uses a rhyming couplet in the last two lines of her poem. However, the use of this only rhyming couplet, ‘head’ and ‘bed’, suggests that the bed is the focus of her strength after his death and her head is where she stores all the inspiring memories. The absence of rhyme in the body of the poem suggests that their love was spontaneous, unplanned and was a continuous flow of events, whereas the use of rhyming couplets Jonson uses, such as ‘joy’ and ‘boy’ is as though he is stating that his son’s death is final; it is planned and there is nothing he can do about it and he has to accept it.
Perhaps he uses rhyming couplets throughout the poem to strengthen himself, give himself solid ground that meet so that he will not break down but instead be brave in his loss. The two poems differ in terms of the type of love expressed and to whom these present feelings are expressed towards.
Both poems are of a bond in family, where Anne Hathaway’s love is a bond of marriage whilst Jonson’s love is between father and son. However, the present feelings are outlined in the past in both poems; they are both events of death therefore it has already happened, yet the feelings are represented as present, as though the poets are reliving the incidents even though each poet has a completely different aspect on the event.
Anne Hathaway relives her lost relationship through fond memories whereas Jonson relives the tragic death of his son as though it is punishment from above as a reminder to remain loyal to his role on Earth. A loss is a loss, but how we recall it is what matters. Losing someone so dear means you can never get them back, he is gone for good.
Therefore there are two ways to remember the times one shared with the other, and these two different ways are expressed through the two poems I have compared; holding on to the good times you shared, or beating yourself up for losing them. At the end of the day, you will have to come to peace with the tragedy, and accept what comes and goes.