William Wordsworth's "Surprised by Joy"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

William Wordsworth

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Surprised by Joy"

William Wordsworth has reported that this poem was "was in fact suggested by my daughter Catharine long after her death." The poem's mystic musing reveals the speaker's soul craving.

William Wordsworth's "Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind" is a Petrarchan sonnet with the traditional octave whose rime scheme is ABBAABBA and the traditional sestet with the rime scheme CDCDCD. The octave features two discrete quatrains and the sestet features two tercets.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.

Reading of "Surprise by Joy"

Commentary

Octave First Quatrain: The Urge to Share 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?

The speaker is animated claiming to have been "surprised by joy." The surprise of this joy impelled him to "share the transport" with his companion. He felt "impatient as the Wind" and unthinkingly turns to comment on his euphoria but then suddenly is brought back to the reality that the person with whom he intended to share his feeling is "deep buried in the silent tomb."

Having died, his companion can no longer be accosted by the "vicissitude[s]" of the wind, the sun, or other joyful expressions of nature. The speaker is alone in his joy, and he is then compelled to capture that odd moment when the joy had been so strong that it made him briefly forget the death and think his loved one still alive and by his side.

Octave Second Quatrain: Strong Bonds Beyond the Grave

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

In the second quatrain of the octave, the speaker then reasons that his momentary lapse was caused by his deep "Love, faithful love"; this strong connection based on profound love heralded the departed loved one to the speaker's mind, making him virtually feel that she indeed stood beside him as the joy swept through his being.

Sestet First Tercet: Reliving Grief

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,

But then the speaker questions the idea implied by his brief moment of forgetfulness that he could ever forget his beloved. He asserts rhetorically through his question that no power could exert itself sufficiently to "blind" him to his "most grievous loss."

The speaker then avers that having that thought of the fact that his beloved had died brought "the worst pang that sorrow ever bore." However, he then qualifies that claim by stating that there was one—"one only"—other occasion when he had suffered such a grief.

Sestet Second Tercet: Distressing Awarenesss

Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

That other occasion occurred as he "stood forlorn" just after the death of his loved one, probably by the gravesite. At that time, as he stood by the grave of the departed, he suffered deeply "knowing my heart's best treasure was no more."

The speaker recalls the distressing awareness that he would never look upon "that heavenly face" again. He remembers thinking that time "neither present time, nor years unborn" would ever resolve the grief he was experiencing.

The Efficacy of Strong Emotion

Strong emotion can bring about many different kinds of worldly experiences. The strong feeling that penetrates the heart and then runs beyond the mind is capable of attracting the soul in its infinite wisdom and storehouse of thoughts and experiences and eliciting from the soul the very objects on which the mind and heart have depended for love and affection.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)