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Surprised by joy -- William Wordsworth

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.
-- William Wordsworth
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.[1]

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

[1]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.

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