Previously, we’ve offered five of the best poems for daughters, so now it’s the turn of the male offspring. Below are five of the finest poems about sons – ranging from the humorous to the moving, the personal to the universal.
Ben Jonson, ‘On My First Son’. Ben Jonson’s short poem for his son Benjamin, who died aged seven, is one of the most moving short elegies in the English language. Jonson (1572-1637) was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and, like the Bard, wrote poems as well as the plays for which he is well-known. As well as being a rather moving poem, ‘On My First Son’ is one of the greatest poems about sons in all of English literature.
Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Prodigal Son’. Referring to the parable told by Jesus in the New Testament, this Kipling poem appears in one of the chapters of Kipling’s novel Kim: ‘Here come I to my own again, / Fed, forgiven and known again, / Claimed by bone of my bone again / And cheered by flesh of my flesh. / The fatted calf is dressed for me, / But the husks have greater zest for me, / I think my pigs will be best for me, / So I’m off to the Yards afresh.’
W. B. Yeats, ‘A Prayer for My Son’. ‘Bid a strong ghost stand at the head / That my Michael may sleep sound, / Nor cry, nor turn in the bed / Till his morning meal come round…’ So begins this moving poem by one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets, written about his son when Michael was still an infant (‘You have lacked articulate speech / To tell Your simplest want’).
Langston Hughes, ‘Mother to Son’. Probably the best-known poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes (1902-67) adopts the maternal voice for this short poem, expressing the views of an African American mother as she addresses her son, telling him that life has been hard for her but that the important thing is to keep climbing and not to turn back.
Judith Viorst, ‘Some Advice From A Mother To Her Married Son’. Viorst (b. 1931) offers a humorous poem for a son getting married here, speaking as one woman who understands what it is like to have been married to a man and wants to ensure that her son and new daughter-in-law have a happy life together. As Viorst concludes here, three times: ‘The answer is yes.’ The answer, son, is always ‘yes’.