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.
‘Surprised by joy’ is an elegy for Wordsworth’s daughter Catherine, who died in 1812, aged three.
The poem sees Wordsworth reflecting on how, during a moment of happiness, he did what every human being would do and tried to share his happiness with his daughter only to be awakened to the cruel realisation that she is now ‘long buried in the silent tomb’ where nothing can reach her.
He tells us that it was love that recalled his daughter to his mind – but how could he forget her in the first place, even for a moment, and fail to remember the terrible grief he feels at her death?
The remembrance of her death was heartbreaking – almost like relieving it from the beginning, overshadowed only by the fact that she was no longer with him and he can’t see her anymore. That closing sestet tends to divide readers. Is it an eloquent and sincere outpouring of grief, or is it a set of platitudinous statements about grief? This is probably where objective analysis gives way to subjective, personal preference. But ‘Surprised by joy’ remains one of Wordsworth’s most accessible and popular short poems, and is one of his finest depictions of personal grief.