Voices of Earlier English: Ben Jonson Buries his Son

Ben Jonson's son died in the London plague epidemic of 1603.

On My First Sonne
Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy,
Seven yeeres thou’wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I loose all father, now. For why
Will man lament the fate he should envie?
To have so soone scap’d worlds, and fleshes rage,
And, if no other miserie, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say: here doth lye
BEN JONSON his best piece of poetrie.
For whose sake, hence-forth, all his vowes be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Child of my right hand] the Hebrew name "Benjamin" traditionally translates as "Right Hand's Son" i.e. the fortunate side. (The original sense in the Bible was probably "Son of the South").

5 Lose all father] lose all fatherliness.

9-10 doth lie...Ben Jonson his...poetry] Both father and son were named Ben Jonson. The syntax of this sentence is ambiguous to good effect. The beauty is that it is unclear just who is doing the lying, or laying, of what.

12] i.e. "His vows be that he will never again like too much anything that he loves." The verb like is probably to be understood in the sense of French plaire, Spanish gustar or Russian нравитьсяWith the arguments being the reverse of the modern verb. The subject is that which pleases and the object is the one who is pleased. Cf. "It likes me much better when I find virtue in a fair lodging" (Sidney) or "His countenance likes me not" (King Lear). It could be read in the modern sense, too, with the subject of "like" left unexpressed. Both the newer ("I like pizza") and the older ("Pizza liketh me") types co-existed in the English of Ben Jonson's time.

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