The theme of death has been widely explored in the poems Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney and On My first Son by Ben Jonson. However, there are also some other themes that the authors have commonly expressed in the two themes. For instance, the themes of desperation, emotional trauma, isolation and grief are some of the often shared themes in the two poems. In this paper, I will analyze the various issues expressed by the two poets, Ben Jonson and Seamus Heaney in their poems. Although, I will analyze the various themes, but I will pay major focus on the theme of death that has widely expressed in the two poems.
On my first son is about a father, Ben Johnson, who moans the death of his seven-year-old son. The persona expresses his grief in the death of his son, and the poem is like a fair well letter to the son. The persona expresses the love and joy he had for the son. The poet expresses the emotional state of the persona after the death of his son. The poet further depicts the father-son relationship between Ben Jonson and his seven-year-old son.
Mid-Term Break is about a young boy who arrives from school and realizes that his four-year-old brother has passed on through an accident. The poet depicts the emotional trauma that the young boy passes through upon hearing the death of his younger brother. The persona explains the grief the family goes through after losing their loved ones. The persona also explains how death is common and how people grief for their loved ones.
Heaney and Johnson were influenced by various circumstances that surrounded them, especially during their childhood. For instance, Johnson wrote the poem On My First Son following the influence of terrible events that followed 1603 in London like the plague that befell the city and left almost 50% of the population dead (Riggs, 1989). Johnson expresses the terrible life that children passes through. In the poem, Johnson explains about the death of his son and says that To have so soon scaped worlds and fleshs rage (Johnson, 7). The poet tries to depict the misery that children passes through while they are young. The most affected people by the outbreak of the plague were children. Parents were left with grief and emotional suffering. Although the poem is very brief, it depicts a lot of emotional meaning in the few lines that the poet has used to express his ideas (Bevan, 1997).
The same concept of violence and death in the surrounding also influenced the writings of Seamus Heaney. Heaney was influenced majorly by the violence that broke out in the Northern Ireland at the time when he began his writing career (Murphy, 2000). The works of the two poets were influenced by their life histories. Therefore, most of the two poems express what the two poets passed through during their childhood and even part of the adulthood. Heaney also expresses the suffering that children go through. The victims that the two poets have used to develop the plot of their poems are children below ten years.
Death is a common theme that both Heaney and Johnson have explored in their poems. The poets have used various characters to bring out the theme of death. For instance, in Mid-Term Break the author has used the young boy who arrived from school to explain the death of his four-year-old younger brother. The poet tries to depict the state of the young boy from school upon hearing the news about his brothers death. For instance, the persona says I met my father crying (Heaney, 4). In the poem On My first son the poet has used a father to explain the concept of death for his seven-year-old son. For instance, the persona explains that Farewell, though a child of my right hand, and joy (Johnson, 1). The onomatopoeia style, knelling that the pot has used to describe the ringing of the bells indicates the presence of funerals that is associated with death. Along the theme of death, the theme of life has also been explored by the two writers to help explain the theme of death. The poets depict how the deceased have lived their lives happily. For instance, Johnson recalls how he has lived a joy and happy life with his son. In the first line, the first stanza of the poem, the persona bids his son a farewell and says that he has lived a happy and joyous life with him at his right-hand side.
Through the theme of death, we can depict other themes like the grief that the loved ones of the deceased go through after they have lost one of their family members. The two poems have expressed the theme of grief that is closely attached to the theme of death in the two poems. For example, in the poem Mid-Term Break the poet presents us with the young boy who has just arrived from school and finds out about the death of his brother. The poet presents the grief that the whole family goes through in the absence of one of them. As the persona explains in the porch, I met my father crying (Heaney, 4); death is not welcomed in any family because it brings separation between the family members. In the poem On my first son Johnson has depicted the grief the father of the seven-year-old boy goes through. The father recalls the emotional attachment he had with his son, and he cannot take the news about the death of his son (Kronenfeld, 1978). The first two lines of the poem, the persona, Ben Johnson expresses his emotional attachment to the child and how the boy been close to his heart. As he explains, the death of the boy leaves him traumatized. The father explains how he had so much hope for the boy in future and death has just exterminated dream and now he is forced to wish him goodbye forever. The grief that the father passes through can be seen through the fatherhood attachment that Johnson had for the boy. Johnson explains the state parents who have lost their children go through. However, he expresses his desire that no parent should ever bury his son like he did with his seven-year-old son. Johnson moans the death of his firstborn son who he feels that he has lost a lot.
Guilt is another major theme expressed in the poems that are connected to the theme of death. The guilt of the characters expressed by both poets in their poems depicts the meaning and responsibility of parenthood. The role of a parent is to protect his children no matter what age they are. But as the poets express in their respective poems, the parents feel the guilt that they have failed in their responsibility as the protector of the children (Kay, 1971). In the poem Mid-Term Break the persona explains how he arrived home and found his father crying for losing one of his children. The persona also feels that he has failed his brother as the eldest son in the family to protect the younger ones. The responsibility of the elder people is to provide guardian and protection to the younger and vulnerable as children. The persona feels that being that he was away in school has only contributed to the loneliness of his brother that he feels it is his guilt to bear now. However, he still does not accept the responsibility of being an elder. For instance, he says that Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest; Away at school, as my mother held my hand (Heaney, 11-12). This depicts how the eldest son has not accepted his responsibility as the eldest, and he still has the childish feelings. The fact that he was not around when his brother died also increases the guilt. For example, he says that for the first time in six weeks; Pale now (Heaney, 18). He described the memories of his brother when he was life, and he develops the feeling of guilt that he has been away, and he never got the chance to say goodbye to him.
Innocence is another major theme connected to the theme of death that Heaney and Johnson have explored widely in their poems. Through the poems, we can get to understand that all the victims or the deceased are children of less than ten years old. The fact that the parents and other people around the children are unable to protect them only extends the grief and moaning of the deceased. Both poems have expressed the innocence of childlike. In the poem On my first son the poet has used the victim of seven-year-old to explain how death affected younger generation. The poet has presented a victim of four-year-old who is still innocent has known nothing about many events around him/her. As the persona explains the baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram (Heaney, 7), it depicts the innocence in the child. The persona argues that death has taken away one innocent creature that did not deserve to die. About our society, it can depict the suffering of the innocent people (Ward, 2014). Some people suffer the fate they know nothing about. Also, in the poem On my first son innocence has been expressed in the life of the seven-year-old son who has left the father with a lot of hope that can never be realized now because he is gone forever. As the persona explains, death takes away the joy and happiness of people. Ben Johnson, the persona in the poem explains the life that he has lived with his son. This is not only his son but his first born; therefore, he feels that he has lost a lot in life. Johnson had placed a lot of hope in the son, and when he learns of his death, he becomes disappointed and vow not to trust on worldly things. The innocence of the seven-year-old boy is evidently depicted in the grief statements of the father. In fact, he says that it was a sin for him to have placed so much trust in the son, My sin was too much hope of thee (Johnson, 2). The boy is only seven years, and he is dead, although, the cause is not well described in the poem we can understand that it is caused by something beyond the control of a human power like a plague. The persona is in an emotional dilemma and confusion state where he does not know where else to place his hopes. Just like in many societies, a child is expected to bury the parent and not the parent to bury the parent. This is what Johnson tries to explain in his poem claiming that no child should bury the child because a parent should live to see their children grow up and takes over their places. Although, as he explains that it is fate that has made things the way they are, exacted by the fate, on the just day (Johnson, 4), the persona feels that death is wrong to have taken the innocent soul like that of his seven-year-old son.
Family kinship is something that the poets have explored all through the poems that are also connected with the theme of death and grief. Through the family kinship, we get to understand the pain and suffering that the other members of the family feel after they have lost one of them. The tow poems depict family kinship and the attachment that the members of the family have on one another. The importance of family kinship has also been expressed in the poem through the theme of family kinship. If any member of the family leaves, there is a gap that is left that no one can ever fill. Through the two poems, we can understand that every member of the family is as significant as the parents irrespective of the age. Even though the deceased are still children and young that they do not contribute to the family income, but the family members consider them important. In the poem Mid-Term Break the persona explains how his father cried over the death of his four-year-old brother. He further explains how the other people like the neighbors filled in the bedroom that he now describes as the moaning room; and candles soothed the bedside (Heaney, 17). The feeling of isolation described by the persona after realizing about the death of his brother indicates the importance of family kinship. The crying of the father shows that despite that the deceased was young and still unproductive to the family, he held an important value in the family that when he died he left a huge...
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