In the contemporary world, many of us might never experience the tragedy of losing a child. Imagine living in the 1500s like the author when child mortality rates were skyrocketing due to poor health conditions. "On My First Daughter" is a poem written in memory of the death of a loved one. Many describe it as a poetic epitaph as it's a personal presentation of Ben Jonson's feelings after the death of his first child. These emotions can be contradictory, particularly when it involves letting go of a loved one. This kind of complication is evident throughout the poem, touching majorly on religion, death, and loss.
Johnson begins the poem by expressing the pain that he felt from the tragedy. The use of the double stressed phrase "here lies" signifies that the poet is at the grave of his daughter. It is evident from the second line, "Mary, the daughter of their youth"(line 2), that the couple was just a young family. Even though he had known the child, Mary, for a few months, the pain generally emanates from the close attachment with his daughter. Additionally, the poet makes a religious connection in the next lines suggesting that his knowledge of the afterlife and paradise makes him less sorrowful.
The next few lines provided the reader with more background information about her daughter. They also contain many references to religion, as it seems as the author was too much into religion. The poet states that Mary was "six months" old when she "parted hence"(line 5) hence she was still innocent of the worldly sins. The next few lines also enhance the feeling of safety regarding the death of her daughter. He believes that she will be welcomed to heaven by a "heaven queen," Mary, a woman she shares a name with. These assumptions make the poet feel like her daughter is in a better place as Mary would have put her daughter in alongside the others she protected in heaven.
Lastly, apart from the structure and rhyming scheme, the poet employs various stylistic devices in the bid to show his emotion and grief for her deceased daughter. For instance, the use of symbolism and metaphors is evident throughout the poem. "Heaven's gift" is a metaphor used to describe her daughter, which shows the spiritual and divine impact Mary had on her father. He also uses the metaphor as a form of consolation to reduce the guilt of her death. The use of the name Mary is a symbol of innocence, like from the biblical Mary Magdalene. He feels that his daughter would benefit from the favors of the heaven queen since they share the same name.
In summation, On My First Daughter" is a poetic epitaph written in memory of the death of a loved one. The poem shows the author's deep emotion regarding the unfortunate situation that had occurred. Some of the major themes evident in the poem are religion and grief. The religious assumptions make the poet feel like her daughter is in a better place as Mary would have put her daughter in alongside the others she protected in heaven. Apart from the structure and rhyming scheme, the poet employs various stylistic devices such as symbolism and metaphors in the bid to show his emotion and grief for her deceased daughter.
Jonson, Ben. "On My First Daughter." and "On My First Son." In The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. MH Abrams. New York: WW Norton and Company (2012).
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