Surprised by Joy – William Wordsworth – comments

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 (1750 – 1830)

This sonnet is based on Wordsworth’s daughter Catherine, who died in 1812, aged just three. The poem reflects on a moment of happiness that instinctively came to him in relation to the joy brought to him by his daughter. And it could be a moment long after the death based on long buried.


Looking at that memorable first line – Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind. It appears that something has triggered remembrance and a joyful remembrance. It could have been an object associated with the infant or a word spoken by someone; but whatever it was it brought instant joy. And whatever it was love was at the core – love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind. And the effect was a need for an expansion of this feeling. The Wind is personified; and the wind is impatient. It often comes rattling at your door demanding recognition. In the same way Wordsworth is impatient for an expansion to his joy. And then he states emphatically that it is impossible to forget his daughter – But how could I forget thee? Indicating perhaps that it is a renewed reflection, suggesting a little guilt.

The last six lines promote the grievous thought on never ever seeing Catherine again; and never ever being able to share again. And time does continually distance us from those we love and have died. And, like Wordsworth, we all must come to terms with this as time minimises the gold in our own personal life.

Metaphorically we collect gold coins over the years and quite often we forget we hold them in our pocket. However, from time to time we take them out and look at their face value.

vicissitude = change in circumstance or fortune


William Wordsworth on Wikipedia

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