Death of a child is the most devastating experience a parent can ever face. A piece of yourself is lost and your future is forever changed. In the sonnet “Surprised by Joy”, William Wordsworth relates how a moment of joy caused him to remember the death of his daughter, Catherine. Even the title of the poem is “Surprised by Joy”, it is definitely not a poem about sharing joyfulness and happiness. The joy only lasts for a second, or even less than that, because any joy will bring up his memory of his daughter. The memory immediately crushed any joy he had and replaced them with grief and sadness. “Surprised by Joy” is in iambic pentameter, where Wordsworth uses poetic variation to create a tension between words to express a cruel and inescapable realization that his life is completely changed without his daughter there to share it, and he allowed this to rob any briefest moments of happiness.
This sonnet, Italian (or Petrarchan) rhyme scheme, illustrates how people keep the memories of the dead alive through our thoughts, and how those memories make us encounter death many times when we have a little bit joy. The poem opens by giving out a picture of a father and a daughter traveling together, and the father turn to his daughter to tell her how much he enjoyed the trip. However, he suddenly stopped shortly after he turned. Wordsworth uses a caesura dash and the exclamation to mark the drastic change from the surprise moment to “Oh! With Whom” moment. This strong rhythmic pauses in the middle of the line let readers become infinitely curious to know what happened. Then, Wordsworth gives out the answer to the readers – his daughter is “deep buried” in a tomb.
The second quatrain introduces feeling of love for the deceased, which linger forever in his memory. His positive emotions will always change to sadness and he couldn’t stop suffering the lost even for “at least division of an hour”. In the sestet, the overwhelming grief reaches a climax. Wordsworth describes the feeling as the “most grievous loss” and “worst pang”. Wordsworth ended the poem by returning thought of his loss and present and wish to eternity. His emotion gradually calm down as the poem goes and finally recognize the fact “that neither present time, nor years unborn” could not bring his daughter back to him. So he helplessly accepts the sorrow and hope his daughter will reside in heaven forever.
What reveals the most about the emotions in the poem is its metrical arrangement. The octave’s metrical pattern creates a more agitated mood. Line 1 has scansion (- /|- /|- /|- -|- /). The third foot is scanned as a pyrrhic (- -), two weakly stressed syllables in a row. Wordsworth uses this median pyrrhic substitution to produce a lilting effect, which tend push the reader goes forward. This pyrrhic foot shows how eager and how strong Wordsworth desires to share the joy with his daughter. The very first word “surprised” and the last word of the line “wind” both express an unexpected, short-lived occurrence of joy. The caesura following the haste of his thoughts, and emphasis the word “impatient” right after it. “Impatient as the Wind” followed by a slight enjambment suggest, as I said before, that how eagerly the father wants to share what he has found with his daughter. Line 2, the interjection “oh!” is regularly placed in the regular iambic pattern such that falls on a stressed syllable. The stressed “oh!” and stressed “whom” gives the end of this sentence a small climax to ponder “with whom?” The enjambment of the lines connect to “But thee” where a caesura combined with the long “e” sound -“thee, deep”, gives a sense of depth and finality to his daughter’s death. Line 3 has an irregular stress pattern, whose irregular feeling can be reinforced by a spondees foot. The line is pentameter, with scansion (- /|| / /|- /|- -|- /).. Wordsworth uses a spondee pairs to emphasis the finality to his child’s death. Two strongly stressed syllables in a row, “deep buried” slow the line down and express out his desperate sadness. Another irregularity lies in the third feet, where preposition “in” should be posed as an unstressed meter, however, I choose to stress it because it not only can maintain the regular iambic form of the sentence, but also strengthen, again, the death of his daughter.
Line 5, Wordsworth opens the sentence forcefully by beginning them with a stressed syllable “Love”. Here, the first foot demands a stress because Wordsworth realized that it is “love, faithful love” to recall the fact that she is gone forever. The repetition of “love” emphasized the purity of his intentions in wanting to share his joy with her. Love, conventionally brings up a tender and sweet feeling to people, however here; love is the reason that fights Wordsworth to get over the fact of his child’s death. Line 7 has an irregular stress pattern starts with an initial trochee (“Even”) to stress the impossibility to get over this sadness. Both line 6 and 7 have a feminine ending “ power and hour” where he mute the last syllable to create this non-stop hover of the grievances. Toward the end of the octave, Wordsworth uses a line a 12 syllables, 6 feet iambic hexameter to push the agitated mood to a climax by this extreme poetic irregularity.
In the sestet, Wordsworth uses metrical patterns to create a more tranquil and softer feeling. Line 9 has a caesura after the climactic exclamation of “my most grievous loss!”. Line 10 Wordsworth uses the skipping effect of the opening pyrrhic, followed by the slowing effect of the spondee that coms after it. (- -|/ /|- /|- /|- /). He compares the pain he felt at that moment of his initial reaction to her death. “Worst pang” is made up of two monosyllabic words (an adjective and a noun), demands a spondee, which vividly suggest how much the physical burden her death has brought to him. Those two lines (Line 9, 10) mark the shift from re-living the experience to actually realizing his loss. By reading the tensions Wordsworth created, I can feel how torturous will be when sorrow quickly sweep over the joy.
Line 12 is another line demonstrates a great irregularity (/ -|- /|/ /|- -|- /). Wordsworth uses the word “Knowing” to start an otherwise iambic line. The metrical pattern demands an iamb (- /) in the first foot, but the normal stress of the word “Knowing,” demands that we pronounce the word with a stronger stress on the first, rather than the second syllable. Therefore, this is trochee pronunciation is hard-wired into the word. The third feet “best trea(sure)” has a spondee pattern in the same sense of the word “worst pang”. In fifth feet, “no more” has a regular iambic form because Wordsworth is gradually calming down. The last line gives us an interesting choice between regularity and irregularity. If we interpret “heavenly” as a three-syllable word, the regularity will be disrupted and the line becomes an iambic hexameter. Wordsworth wants to use this last chance to convey the unsettling feeling about his daughter’s death, which he will never get over. If we interpret “heavenly” as “heav’nly”, the line becomes a perfect regular iambic pentameter, which reflects Wordsworth’s feelings of helplessness and he finally calm down because he knows all his wishing cannot change. In is interesting to see that Wordsworth gives a choice to allow the readers to explore and make their own choices when the poem ends.
Wordsworth uses the organization of the octave and the sestet to present two different emotions. In octave, caesurae occur in widely varying positions within the line. A good amount of enjambment make the poem flows quicker, which like I said before, contributes to an agitated mood. The octave intrudes into the first line of the sestet, which the line structure becomes different. Wordsworth only uses one enjambment, while five of the other lines are end-stopped. The symmetric arrangement of the lines gives readers a more sober feeling. The final two lines show a complete normal iambic pentameter pattern, which reflects Wordsworth’s feelings of helplessness in a situation he knows all his wishing cannot change. The rhyme of the poem is ABBA ACCA BDB DBD. Throughout the sonnet’s sestet, the sounds in “bore”, “more”, “nor” and “restore” creates an “ou” -mournful sound and echo Wordsworth’s sadness as he moves on.
Generally speaking, Wordsworth attaches powerful dramatic emotions to the sonnet by using metrical variation. A child’s death drastically changed Wordsworth’s ability to appreciate and to live in happiness. He is saddened by the memory of her death and, with each line of the poem, sinks deeper and deeper into his grief. The conclusion of this sonnet, in a whimper mood, has a huge contrast to its beginning. It differs greatly from most traditional sonnets in that time because most poems will raise a question in the middle of the poem and give a satisfactory resolution to it. In this sonnet, I can see the tension created in octave (uncontrollable and overwhelming emotion) is gradually resolved in the sestet (cruel and helpless realization). Instead of reaching a solution to the problem, Wordsworth let the reader to choose, to explore, and to interpret. This led us to the source of the problem itself that the grievance of his daughter is gone forever will never resolve.