Analysis of Wordsworth’s Surprised by Joy

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Analysis of Wordsworth’s Surprised by Joy

Death, like ink dropped in a glass of water, taints one's perception of life by coloring every experience with a sad shade of grief. In his poem, "Surprised by Joy," William Wordsworth relates how a moment of joy caused him to remember the death of his four-year-old daughter, Catharine. The memory effectively crushed any positive feelings he had during his encounter with joy and replaced them with quilt and sadness. This sonnet, though Italian in rhyme scheme, abandons the typical conflict-to-resolution form of argument for one which begins with the desired end-result and progresses towards the heart of the problem. Throughout the sonnet, Wordsworth shifts from expressing raw emotions of joy and grief, to realizing his loss, and finally, to accepting her death on a very removed and intellectual level. This originality of sonnet form combines with carefully placed sound effects to express the intense grief that embitters Wordsworth's experience of joy.

The first quatrain opens with Wordsworth's moment of joy and his eagerness to share the experience with his daughter. The abruptness of the phrase, "[s]urprised by joy," and the very word "surprised" -- which is onomatopoetic in that it starts with soft s and ur sounds, explodes into the plosive p and long i sounds and is quickly stifled by the ed sound -- mimics the unexpected, short lived occurrence of joy (1). The caesura following this phrase chops the flow of words, showing the haste of his thoughts as he continues, "impatient and the Wind / I turned to share the transport" (1,2). The slight enjambment after "Wind" suggests the image of wind as a pushing force and created s sort of turning sensation into the next line....

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/ x x / x / x x x /

Ev'n for | the least | divi | sion of | an hour,

x / x / x / x / x /

Have I | been so | beguiled | as to | be blind

x / x / x / || x / x /

To my | most grie| vous loss! | -- That thought's | return

x x / / x / x / x /

Was the | worst pang | that sor | row ev | er bore,

x / || / x x || / x / x /

Save one, | one on | ly, when | I stood | forlorn,

/ x x / x / x / x /

Knowing | my heart's | best trea | sure was | no more;

x / x / x / x / x /

That nei | ther pres | ent time, | nor years | unborn

x / x / x / x / x /

Could to | my sight | that heav'n| ly face | restore.
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