William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
“Surprised by joy — impatient as the wind”
William Wordsworth was an English poet born on April 7, 1770. He mainly wrote in the style of romanticism, which is a form of writing based upon nature and emotion. A lot of Wordsworth’s poetry dealt with the humanly feelings of regular people and he even wrote about abandoned women. A huge inspiration for Wordsworth was the guilt he felt from the separation from his first true love and their daughter.
Surprised by joy — impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport — O! with whom
But Thee, deep 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.
Wordsworth had six children (the first one being illegitimate): Caroline, John, Dora, Thomas, Catherine, and William. Three of these children died. Thomas and Catherine both died in the same year, while Dora died some years later. After Dora’s death, Wordsworth gave up writing for good. The poem “Surprised by joy — impatient as the wind,” was written shortly after the death of Thomas and Catherine, and was written about Catherine.
In this poem, Wordsworth writes how people remember lost loved ones. It also illustrates how we keep the memories of the dead alive through our thoughts, and how those thoughts make us encounter death many times in our lives. Wordsworth wants to keep the memory of his daughter, Catherine, alive by envisioning her being with him in his times of happiness, hence the part of the title “Surprised by joy.”
Imagine a father and daughter traveling together, and the father turns to the daughter to see her enjoying the trip as much as he is, but he then realizes that she is dead and gone. This is the image that is painted for the reader in the first part of the poem, “I turned to share the transport — O! with whom but thee…” Wordsworth is enjoying the time he is having, and he wants his daughter to be there to enjoy it with him, but when he turns to share the moment with her, he realizes that she is gone. Instead of basking in sorrow, the author has given an alternative to dealing with the death of a loved one. He also expresses this in the line, “Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more; That neither present time, nor years unborn, Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.” His ‘heart’s best treasure’ being his daughter, who’s ‘heavenly face’ could never be seen again.
The multiple experiences of death that we encounter are portrayed in this poem as well. When Wordsworth is in different moments of happiness, he forgets that his daughter has passed on, but he also portrays that he can control his emotions because he has had to deal with them time and time again, giving him many opportunities to observe and analyze them. Although he has experienced the “worst pang that sorrow ever bore,” he has accepted the fact that life goes on and that he is able to enjoy the feeling of happiness.
Wordsworth also wrote about how to deal with and explain the feeling of grief in this poem. To answer the question of how to deal with grief, one must first discuss the concept of time. In the poem, Wordsworth illustrates time as a convention in the line, “Even for the least division of an hour.” He expresses time as a convention because there is actually no time being passed between his memories of his daughter, but instead he just goes straight from one memory to the next. By saying, “Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind,” Wordsworth is saying that time is in fact a convention, therefore love and grief are essentially associated with the same thing, because love of something leads to grief when it is removed from our lives.
This poem is related to the “Road of Trials” hero journey stage. The Road of Trials stage is the part in the hero journey where the hero is faced with multiple challenges that the hero must conquer before he/she reaches their goal. The main challenge that the author faces in the poem is the death of his daughter. He is faced with trying to move on from her death, although it may be painful to let go. This poem fits in well with the Road of Trials because Wordsworth has conquered his challenge and moved on from his daughter’s death despite the fact that he still forgets she is gone from time to time.