BRAVING STORMS: John Foy, “On My First Son”

John FoyYes, in the midst of those dreadful downpours, the floral fireworks may seem long in coming…and yet don’t the ingenuity and endurance that get us through life’s toughest tornadoes always make for the best stories?!


Here’s a storm that’s internal and emotional. Ben Jonson wrote “On My First Son” in 1603 after the death of his seven-year-old boy, Benjamin. The storm he is weathering here is that of inconsolable grief.

Professor Edward Taylor, at Columbia, told us how as a young man he first taught this poem to a roomful of graduate students. He said he broke down in tears in front of the class, overwhelmed by the naked sentiments Jonson expressed, who otherwise was known for his tough, cynical take on things.

Fortunately I have never lost a young child, but I can imagine, as a father, how devastating it must be. I have always loved the plain, hard, sensible quality of the language in this piece.

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years tho’ 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 ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, 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 (1572–1637)


~~~John Foy is the author of Techne’s Clearinghouse (Zoo Press/University of Nebraska Press). His poems are featured in the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, and he has appeared widely in journals, including Poetry, The New Yorker, The New Criterion, Parnassus, American Arts Quarterly, The Raintown Review and many others, with poems forthcoming in The Hudson Review, The Village Voice and The Yale Review. He has also published extensively online and has been a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry website. His essays and reviews have appeared in Parnassus, The New Criterion, Contemporary Poetry Review, The Dark Horse(in Scotland) and other publications, both print and on line. He lives in New York and helps to curate an uptown reading series in Manhattan. You can visit him at

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