Breath of Clarity

Ben Johnson, On My First Son

This is the story of a son who loses his innocence when his father made a mistake and the son no longer perceives the father’s existence as flawless. The start of the piece, “farewell,” suggests that a decrease in interpersonal connection is bound to occur. It indicates the approaching presence of an emotional alteration to occur because the root of emotion is an individual’s response to an impact on their feeling of connection. The foundation of depression is when an individual feels isolated. The most beautiful natural highs that humans experience stem from love. When the speaker says farewell, Johnson enters a discussion about disconnection.

The dialogue form of the poem allows the speaker to use a single phrase that delivers multiple significances. The word “though” makes it clear that this is a segment from a dialogue because the speaker is directing his words to a particular person directly. The father is not only saying “farewell” to the “child,” in terms of their relationship from a literal standpoint. Rather, the father introduces the reason for the disconnection that occurred.

The immature innocent child-like quality of the father’s son was somehow just recently lost. The next line explains that this was due to a sin that the father committed. Its relevance to the son is that the son held “too much hope” in the father’s character. The boy was so “lov’d” by the father that the boy viewed Jonson as flawless. The speaker describes this time as “seven years […] lent to me”. This is because it served the father to be viewed in a lovely and capable light. The point is that this is a reality of the past. The speaker emphasizes that by the use of classic language, “wert”. Its strong similarity to the word “were,” with only the final letter being replaced, suggests the key quality that the sense of hope was only present in the past. The “too much” description is, perhaps, a reference to the perceptive degree of the sin increased due to the high hope that preceded the unjust act. Regardless, Jonson must “pay” for the consequence of the despair that a parent experiences when his child no longer views him in a flawless light.

Jonson uses symbolic imagery to convey his disappointment in the self. The speaker describes that the boy “so soon [es]’scap’d world’s flesh’s rage”. The speaker articulates that the feeling of living still energized by the fascination of life at a young age is now stripped away from the boy because his innocence was destructed. The diction “flesh” represents a sense of rawness that a person who still has not endured a lot of pain feels. It inevitably escaped out of the boy and caused a “rage”.

The final section of the piece focuses on the recovery of the emotional impact for both people. When the speaker says, “rest in soft peace,” it represents the cease of innocence. The aesthetic choice to present that information with that prose associated with the well-known phrase “rest in peace” portrays the loss of innocence as a death. This is where the speaker demonstrates that the true loss that comes with his mistake is the disintegration of comfort in the boy’s heart. This poem shows that the reason why loss of innocence is so difficult for growing individuals to deal with is because the person must deal with uncertainty. It creates a lack of grip to hold what he thinks is definite truth. The speaker regrets making his son experience this at such a young age of seven. The consequence of his own actions are, “on [his] first son”. In other words, his son must endure the responsibility of coping with a no-longet innocent mind.