Guest poem sent in by Aseem To Catherine Wordsworth 1808 - 1812:
(Poem #1571) Surprised by joy
Surprised by joy - impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport - Oh! 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 grevious 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.
I don't like Wordsworth. Over the years I've tried very hard to like him, tried convincing myself that there was some deep and mystical and moving beauty to his work, worked very hard at trying to discover the poet of whom Browning (who I love) once wrote: "We who had loved him, worshipped him, honoured him / Lived in his mild and magnificient eye / Learnt his great language, heard his clear accents / Made him our pattern to live and to die". And I STILL don't like Wordsworth. The one exception to that rule is this poem. Not that I think it's a brilliant poem or anything - there are lines in it that still make me wince when I read them (who describes a tomb as "that spot which no VICISSITUDE can find"? Outside of gawky english lit undergrads that is). But despite the number of failings I see in it there's something about it that's so heartfelt, so achingly honest that it (yes, I confess it) moves me. The starting line is pure genius, of course, the image of someone turning with a joke on his lips so vivid and the let down in the second line ("Oh! with whom") so sudden that you feel the hurt of it deep, deep inside you. And the sixth, seventh and eighth lines are superb as well - blending so realistically their tones of sorrow, wonder and accusation. And the defeat and sadness at the end make such a beautiful contrast with the exuberance of the starting. This is a wonderfully dramatic poem, but the very awkwardness of some of its lines lend it a genuineness that a more polished rendition would have destroyed. This is not a great poet expressing some mighty vision, this is a mourning father, speaking simply and plainly about his loss. The other reason I love this poem is because it speaks of a feeling that i can relate to - the half-guilty, half-surprised sensation of remembering something serious and sad just when you were most enjoying yourself. It's a feeling I can relate to well as I type this, because looking through the Minstrels archive I realised just now that the 8th of December (two days ago) was Agha Shahid Ali's third death anniversary, and I completely forgot. So in a way this poem is a way of making up for having forgotten. It's not a particularly good way, but I think it's one that would have amused Shahid. Aseem These labours of mine have not been entirely in vain, of course. As a child of eight I remember being convinced that 'Daffodils' was kind of cute. On sundry vacations in the countryside I've even managed to read all of 'Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey' with mild interest. And once, on a drunken dare I even got through most of 'The World is too much with us'. [Martin adds] I was struck by Aseem's uneasy relationship with the poet Wordsworth because it so closely mirrors the way I feel about his contemporary Shelley. I wonder if it is the mark of a great poet to produce this kind of polarisation in attitudes, and if the more mediocre poets evoke not an enduring distaste but at most a bored indifference.