Poetry: “Surprised by Joy”

Swan
image by Ash at Lucid Being
Surprised by Joy
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn

Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

-William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was a poet of the Romantic era whose poems, often dealing with nature and emotions, place him alongside his contemporaries Southey and Coleridge as a master of this genre. His sonnet “Surprised by Joy” is considered one of the finest depictions of personal grief.

William Wordsworth’s daughter Catherine died when she was three. One day Wordsworth happened to come upon something which delighted him, perhaps a robin in a nest with its young. For a second, he instinctively thought of sharing this joy with his daughter, only to remember that he could not do this because she was dead. Forgetting her for an instant was the second worst feeling the poet had ever felt. Realizing that she was gone forever was the worst.

This poem I thought to be directly related to my post Me Talking: Joy vs Happiness . I mentioned that I thought joy could occur alongside sadness and grief whereas happiness could not. Happiness and sadness seems directly opposed. To feel joy amidst grief, though, is simply to reaffirm the wonder of life. It is a reminder that joy and rapture and wonder still exist, and life is still worth living. It does not replace the grief or the sadness; it perhaps offers us hope in a time when there seems to be none.

This poem can be seen as an elegy of grief and sadness. To me, it is more a poem of hope and a belief that in sadness is it okay to be “surprised by joy”.

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