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Wordsworth's anatomies of surprise.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH HAS LONG BEEN RECOGNIZED AS A POET OF sudden irruptions, episodes that seemed trivial to many of his contemporary readers but strike us as quintessentially lyric moments. In the poet's terms, they take the form of either a "strange fit of passion" or a "whirl-blast"--a spontaneous feeling or a natural phenomenon, or a combination of the two. With respect to lyric tradition, they represent a major revision of the archetypal form of astonishment invented in Dante's vision of Beatrice in the Vita Nova and Petrarch's first arresting sight of Laura in the Rime Sparse. How to name the Wordsworthian moment? The poet's own phrase "spots of time," which described a few vignettes in The Prelude, has been broadly applied to a range of similar experiences, in the same way that Coleridge's term "conversation poem" has been appropriated as a generic category. "Epiphany" has also been an important designation, but despite its descriptive power, it is something of an anachronism: a theological term reinterpreted by Modernist aesthetics and applied to Romantic-era anecdotes. I propose to explore the explanatory possibilities of a term that Wordsworth did know, and frequently used: surprize.

Just at the outset, I use the now-obsolete spelling as a mark of the distance between our verbal usage and the nuances Wordsworth would have known, and as an emphatic reminder of a term that had great currency in eighteenth-century novels and aesthetic discourse. The word "surprise" figures in some of the poet's most striking phrases of astonishment: the Boy of Winander's "gentle shock of mild surprise" at the aural jolt of the owls' silence and the world's susurrus; the leech-gatherer's "flash of mild surprise" at his questioner's curiosity; the child whose "mortal Nature" trembles "like a guilty Thing surprised"; the strange experience of being "surprised by joy." (1) I would like to resituate such anecdotes within an eighteenth-century discourse that conceived of surprise as a component of aesthetic response, a phenomenon of cognition and emotion, and a narrative crux.

Before we pursue this line of inquiry, it is worth considering the capacities and limitations of the epiphany-model, which has been most thoroughly explored by Robert Langbaum and, more recently, Ashton Nichols. In its theological sense, the word "epiphany" denotes a manifestation of the divine, but in its broader modernist inflection (particularly as formulated by James Joyce in Stephen Hero) it involves an intimation of deep significance within the mundane. It is in the latter sense that Langbaum uses the term to account for several features of Wordsworthian experience: the shock of the ordinary, the quasi-mystical sense of an external power or agency, the intimation of an invisible realm behind the world of appearances, the fleeting perception and its afterlife. (2) Beyond describing the Wordsworthian structure of experience, the idea of epiphany locates an affinity between the modern poetics of the ordinary and the Romantic lyric, connecting "spots of time" with the twentieth-century genre of the short story.

This genealogy is not equally illuminating in both historical directions, however. Applied as an interpretive frame and thematic summary, the epiphany-model tends to simplify or flatten Wordsworth's poetry. Langbaum describes "A Night-Piece" as "an epiphany of the distant, silent motion of the stars," the Mount Snowdon episode of The Prelude as an "epiphany of the creative imagination," the "Westminster Bridge" sonnet as "an epiphany of human as distinguished from natural life," and "It is a beauteous evening" as an "epiphany of deity" ("The Epiphanic Mode" 350, 352-53). So many different terms occupy the space in the synoptic template, "epiphany of," that the concept risks being thinned into any realization--or, from a critical standpoint, any thematic precis. The formula also promotes a narrowing teleology. Though we can recognize these distillations as possible meanings in Wordsworth's poems, we might not agree that the climactic realization of "A Night-Piece" is a sense of cosmic movement, or that the "Westminster Bridge" sonnet culminates in a renewed conceptual distinction. While Langbaum's notion of epiphany is pointedly secular, a trace of monotheism lingers about it: only one crystallizing vision per poem.

Paul Fry has been a particularly vocal critic of the epiphany-model, emphasizing the prevalence of "non-epiphany" in Wordsworth and identifying key moments in the poetry as instances of "a-theologic astonishment." (3) And yet in fairness to the epiphany-critics, it is worth remembering that both Langbaum and Nichols make several distinctions between religious and secular forms of epiphany; in particular, the latter remarks that "Wordsworth's finest poetry makes surprisingly few claims about the meaning of the experiences it describes" (Nichols 38). Nichols relates the Wordsworthian moment to Bachelard's observation that every child is "an astonished being, the being who realizes the astonishment of being" (8). These ideas strikingly anticipate the model that Fry proposes as a substitute: "the ostensive moment," which represents "the sentiment of inexplicably existing"--"disclosing neither the purpose nor the structure of existence but only existence itself" (29, 11). Fry's new term, then, does not so much replace epiphany outright as it serves as a corrective to New Historicist groundings of the Romantic lyric in material, historically contingent particulars. Ostension is not only "a-theologic" but also stubbornly ahistorical, in that it names a condition of Being that underlies the accidents of time and place.

While Geoffrey Hartman has referred in passing to the Wordsworthian anecdote as an epiphany of sorts, he has been more interested in proposing a different generic classification, the narrative archetype of "the Halted Traveller": a figure stopped in his tracks by a sudden perception, and then compelled to linger in a state of wonder, abstracted thought, or speculation. (4) Hartman names this lyric genre the poetry of surmise; and his exemplary figure is the speaker of "The Solitary Reaper," who, arrested by the sound of a field worker's Gaelic song, falls into a reverie on its meaning. The speaker's command to "stop here, or gently pass," Hartman points out, is a rhetorical gesture akin to the epitaph or inscription that commands the traveler to stop and consider (siste, viator). Not all of Wordsworth's poems of surmise make this command, but they do enact that moment of arrest. The halted traveler thus serves as a powerful emblem of Wordsworthian poetics: the replacement of an automatic, unreflexive activity (walking) with a new state of concentration and awareness; the Lockean connection between literal motion and figurative trains of thought; the interruption of a goal-directed progress by the mental drift of reverie. Like Langbaum, Hartman seeks to name a poetic genre, but he does so with reference to genres of writing (the simple epitaph or inscription) and a form of thought (the surmise). I would like now to focus on the impetus of that surmise.


Surprise is a key term in Wordsworth's vocabulary of thought and affect, and this fact is in itself noteworthy. "Surprised by Joy" (1812), to which I will return at the end of this essay, illustrates my point. In light of the sonnet revival of the late eighteenth century, the poem is unremarkable in that it does what Coleridge thought that sonnets were good for, which was to elaborate a single mood within a compact space and a given pattern; but it is thoroughly striking in the particular feeling that it articulates. The emotion of surprise is not to be found in the meditative lyrics of Wordsworth's influential predecessors, Charlotte Smith and William Lisle Bowles. It is, however, a prevalent word in eighteenth-century novels, which are often structured by episodes of surprise; they promise "surprizing adventures," (5) and they feature ekphrastic set-pieces of characters' mute astonishment--hyperbolic versions of the reader's own affective engagement with the text.

In her recent book, Lyric Generations (2004), G. Gabrielle Starr has cogently argued for a thoroughgoing influence of the novel on Romantic poetry, manifested in forms of epistolary communication, representations of interiority, scenes of domesticity, models of sympathy, and encounters on the road with storytelling travelers. (6) To this list I would add the representation of surprise, which figures prominently in novels of Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Burney, and Austen, among others. These scenes typically portray characters in states of wonder, muteness, astonishment, fear, or (often in the case of female characters) sexual embarrassment; and they could be said to reflect or magnify the reader's own engagement with the text--her probahilistic expectation of outcomes, her experience of the new.

Surprise occupies the crossroads of lyric and narrative, in that it can be both an emotion and an event. We speak of it as both an affect and its cause: we feel surprise and describe something as a surprise. (The same cannot be said of such passions as anger or grief.) In this way, surprise exemplifies a crux in the vocabulary of affect: the way that an emotion can be portrayed as both coming from within and seizing the self from without. This duality resides in the word's etymology and persists in modern psychological discourse of emotion. Derived from the French surprendre (to seize or overtake), "surprise" first denoted a physical act (specifically, a military action) and then migrated into a cognitive register. The fault-line running between these two senses has been articulated by Robert Solomon as a "Myth of the Passions"--the idea that emotion is something that happens to us, a force beyond our control. In contrast, a "cognitive" account posits emotions as "evaluative judgments," ethical orientations toward the world. (7) Surprise presents a special case, however, since it indicates both an external force and an internal state. Indeed, some theorists have addressed that ambiguity by distinguishing between the "startle" reaction (a physical reflex), and the emotion of surprise. (8)

The duality of surprise figures prominently in Paradise Lost, with its exploration of rational choice and physical circumstance, the mental and the material; and Milton's deployment of the term is important for understanding the verbal nuances of Wordsworth's gentle shocks and surprises of joy. Not surprisingly, traces of the old military sense of the word linger in Milton's epic, with its Christian revisions of Homeric battles and sneak-attacks. When the tutelary angel Raphael advises Adam to "govern well thy appetite, lest Sin / Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death" (7.548-49), (9) he invokes both senses of "surprise": Sin is a foe that attacks the victim in a moment of weakness, and in the immediate aftermath, the sinner is astonished--too late--by what he has done.

The prevalence of surprise in Paradise Lost has everything to do with the poem's representation of origins and first experiences: things that have never before happened, sensations and emotions that have never been felt--or, alternately, things that are re-experienced or re-learned as if for the first time. Even God's obedient angels have the capacity for astonishment, as Raphael's description of the triumphal parade in heaven reminds us: "them [victorious celebrants] unexpected joy surprised, / When the great ensign of Messiah blazed / Aloft by angels borne, his sign in heav'n" (6.774-76). This variety of jubilant surprise serves as a revisionary healing of epic conflict: an attack of happiness instead of the physical assaults that have led to this moment. To be surprised by unexpected joy is to exult in an outcome that might have seemed, in the heat of battle, uncertain (since angels are not omniscient or clairvoyant); and to feel an intensity of emotion previously unknown in heaven's steady atmosphere of contentment.

In eighteenth-century philosophical and aesthetic discourse, surprise is understood as an emotion or passion akin to fear, joy, or anger. Joseph Addison identified it as the emotion produced by Novelty, one of the three primary pleasures of the imagination. In this spectrum of feeling, surprise stands midway between the astonishment of Greatness and the "secret Satisfaction and Complacency" of Beauty. "Every thing that is new or uncommon raises a Pleasure in the Imagination," Addison says, "because it fills the Soul with an agreeable Surprise, gratifies its Curiosity, and gives it an Idea of which it was not before possest." We are so vulnerable to habit and boredom that this emotion "serves us for a Kind of Refreshment, and takes off from that Satiety we are apt to complain of in our usual Entertainments." (10)

The trope of filling a previously empty or depleted soul appears in David Hume's account of the passions in the Treatise on Human Nature (1739), but with an emphasis on darker effects--not so much delight as disabling astonishment or fear. In effect, Addison was interested in the aesthetic dimension of surprise, Hume the ethical. Providing a richer account of the interaction among emotion, disposition, and belief than Addison gave, Hume cautions that the first flush of surprise intensifies a disposition to gullibility--particularly with respect to "quacks and projectors." "The first astonishment, which naturally attends their miraculous relations," he warns, "spreads itself over the whole soul, so vivifies and enlivens the idea, that it resembles the inferences we draw from experience." (11) And yet Hume allows that surprise in itself, as a function of novelty, is generally pleasurable: "But tho' surprize be agreeable in itself, yet as it puts the spirits in agitation, it not only augments our agreeable affections, but also our painful, according to the foregoing principle, that every emotion, which precedes or attends a passion, is easily converted into it" (470). The mind dwells in a default-state of inertial passivity, so any moderate stimulus is a potential pleasure--in its movement of the quasi-humoural "spirits," and in its stimulation of some answering mental labor (470). In Hume's emotional economy, however, "surprize is apt to change to fear," because animated by the unexpected or unknown (492).

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) Wordsworth negotiates, in effect, between the account of pleasure put forth by Addison and the dangers sketched by Hume. The essay is preoccupied with what might be called bad and good forms of surprise: on the one hand, the poet laments the sensory assaults of urban living and the aesthetic shocks of popular entertainments (mainly drama and novels); (12) on the other hand, he cites surprise as an important component of the reader's experience of poetry. If in Addison's terms the experience of the Novel gives an "agreeable Surprise" and alleviates the dullness of "satiety," it can also reach its own saturation-point, as Wordsworth argues in his well-known lament for the cheap and promiscuous sensations of popular art (namely gothic romance), and the "degrading thirst for outrageous stimulation." (13) In his own art, Wordsworth finds an antidote of sorts in the "small, but continual and regular impulses of pleasurable surprise from the metrical arrangement" (1.146). A "regular" surprise seems an oxymoron, however: how can a reader be struck by a syllabic accent that comes exactly where she expects to find it? Part of an answer lies in the fact that Wordsworth is describing the little cognitive jolts that prosodic regularity makes possible--the sudden realization, the arrhythmic phrase, the unexpected word. Beyond this, Wordsworth makes the more striking claim that the surprise of poetic novelty is renewable: "the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once" (1. 150).

To cite "Strange Fits of Passion" as an illustration: in terms of narrative fact, we can only be surprised once by the speaker's sudden frisson of his lover's mortality; but in the iambic momentum of the final line, with its inevitable end in the accented word, "dead," we can feel something like surprise each time we read it. The word "life" performs the same function in Wordsworth's poem "To H.C., Six Years Old" (1802, pub. 1807) on Coleridge's young son Hartley. In the final couplet, the poet contemplates the child's physical vulnerability: "But, at the touch of wrong, without a strife / Slips in a moment out of life" (32-33). Earlier in the poem, Wordsworth has already darkly intimated the possibility of future pain or violence, so in a thematic sense the conclusion is not at all surprising. And yet the awkwardness of the word "strife" betrays his determination to surprise the reader through the formal sequence of a completed rhyme--to push the hints of the boy's delicacy and ethereal lightness to their bare extremity.

Death is the ultimate surprise, of course, but from a formal standpoint also an easy one to accomplish, and in "She was a Phantom of Delight," we sense the poet working against the narrative donnee of the earlier Lucy poems, the sudden death of a young woman. As in a Petrarchan sonnet, the poet elaborately describes his first arresting vision of the girl in the language of supernatural enchantment: she "gleamed" upon the poet's sight--"lovely Apparition, sent / To be a moment's ornament" (3-4) an image "to haunt, to startle, and way-lay" (9-10). But rather than dwelling on this moment in memory or pairing the perceptual surprise with the metaphysical shock of death, the poet deliberately replaces the sudden glimpse with the temporal perspective of a long and intimate acquaintance, and epithets of the supernatural ("Phantom," "Apparition," "Spirit") with terms of ordinary life ("Being," "Traveler," "Woman"). In light of Wordsworth's disparaging remarks about gothic sensationalism, the poem's work of redescription is especially striking: the phrase "Phantom of Delight" becomes, in the poem's retrospect, a phrase for ephemeral pleasures and passing moods. At the heart of the poem, there is a chiasmus: the formulation "A Spirit, yet a Woman too" (12) is ultimately inverted into "A perfect Woman ... And yet a Spirit still" (27-29). Though the more extreme terms ("apparition," "phantom") are abandoned, the word "spirit" is retrieved and subtly changed to suggest something like the animating soul that persists through time; it is the verbal afterimage of that first arresting surprise.


Wordsworth's early poem, "A Night Piece" (1798), provides a template for the anecdotes of surprise that the poet would continue to tell. On a dark night, the clouds part to reveal the moon ("At length a pleasant instantaneous gleam / Startles the pensive traveler" [8-9]) before closing again ("At length the Vision closes" [23]). The repeated phrase, "at length" frames the poem and suggests two temporal dilations--the tedium of the traveler's "lonesome path" and the sustained pause in which the scene is taken in. Between the two periods, there is the flash of surprise, a reaction that depends upon unawareness--that condition of the traveler's "unobserving eye / Bent earthwards" (10-11). The participle "unobserving" is curious, because before the moon appears, it would seem that the opaque sky--a "continuous cloud of texture"--seems to offer nothing to observe. In effect, the qualifier retrospectively marks a contrast; the traveler seems unobservant only in the retrospective light of the moon's sudden appearance. It might seem that the state of being "unobserving" in Wordsworth's moral vocabulary is tantamount to unvigilance in Milton's; but it is a necessary condition for the surprise that Wordsworth describes.

The poem is an anecdote with a larger aesthetic point to make, evident in its concluding generalization of the lone traveler's experience into a mental operation: "and the mind, / Not undisturbed by the delight it feels, / Which slowly settles into peaceful calm, / Is left to muse upon the solemn scene" (23-26). The Wordsworthian litotes "not undisturbed" is, like the word "surprise," a term of both cognitive reflection and physical motion (or emotion); it links the turbulence of the heavens (the sky of clouds and the firmament of moon and starts) with the rhythms of thought. What the traveler is supposed to "muse upon" is left unsaid. If he is an amateur philosopher, he might recall Hume's observations on the effects of surprise, or the subsiding of a perceptual impression into a mental idea; if he is a religious man, he turns the moon into an emblem of divine grace shed upon life's pilgrimage; and if he is a poet, he transforms it into a trope for poetic election, as Wordsworth later does in The Prelude:
 But I believe
 That Nature, oftentimes, when she would frame
 A favoured being, from his earliest dawn
 Of infancy doth open out the clouds,
 As at the touch of lightning, seeking him
 With gentlest visitation ...


The reference for the figurative clouds seems intentionally vague, suggesting whatever obscures or dulls a clear and alert perception of the world. In allegorical terms, the clouds might represent the state of unobservancy described in "A Night Piece"; but what is more important for the sense of this passage is not the exact translation of the clouds but rather the movement of opening them. The clouds would not even have been perceived but for this sudden opening. Wordsworth's metaphor of the "touch of lightning" is willfully peculiar in its mingling of the tactile with the visual, the mild with the fearsome; and it is worth remembering that to be astonished is, in its original etymology (the French etonne) to be thunderstruck. Burke makes this philological point in discussing the emotional component of the Sublime; (14) and in this respect, Wordsworth's language softens a conventional sublimity.

In its paradoxical formulation, the almost imperceptible "touch" of inspiration resembles the experience narrated in the episode of the Winander Boy, when the child is surprised by the sudden silence of owls after a prolonged orphic dialogue:
 ... and when it chanced
 That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
 Then sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
 Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
 Has carried far into his heart the voice
 Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene
 Would enter unawares into his mind ...


The rhetorical doubling in Wordsworth's famous phrase is striking: two overlapping adjectives (gentle, mild), two near-synonymous nouns (shock, surprise), and two seeming oxymorons. The fact that Wordsworth describes a shock of surprise suggests how far the word "surprise" had migrated in common usage from the physical to the cognitive; and like the phrase, "shock of recognition," Wordsworth's partitive construction emphasizes the intensity and brevity of a mental process. "Shock" more potently marks a corporeal experience, the body as receptor of stimuli and producer of affective response--both the perception of sound and silence and a shiver along the spine.

But why the mitigating qualifiers "gentle" and "mild"? In part, they distinguish the experience from the sensations of gothic haunting that Wordsworth disparaged in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads; and after the owls' "jocund din," the adjectives contrastively define the hush of consciousness that follows. Moreover, the strangeness of the two oxymorons emphasizes the peculiarity of the feeling Wordsworth seeks to describe; indeed, he does not attempt to articulate precisely what the surprise is. On a perceptual level, it might be described as the sensation of sudden silence, the light of sense going out. On a propositional level, it might mean the instantaneous awareness of the limits of the will, the alterity of the natural world, the intrusion upon a space, the natural end of all things. It is only in the cessation of the impromptu duet, in which the boy gladly participates on numerous evenings and for as long as possible, that the activity suddenly seems strange.

Surprises typically come double in Wordsworth's poetry, (15) and in the Winander episode, the shock of silence precedes (and enables) the discovery of sound; in Wordsworth's odd phrasing, the first surprise functions as a vehicle that "carries" the "voice" of distant waters into the boy's heart. By its nature, surprise depends upon unawareness or unpreparedness, but Wordsworth's adverb "unawares" works a variation on that model: the first surprise (silence) prepares the way for a second one that is not even consciously registered at the time. (16)

Wordsworth originally wrote the episode as an autobiographical vignette in Goslar in the winter of 1798-99, and it is easy to see how the structure of shock and delayed recognition might qualify the episode as a "spot of time," but it differs from such memories in one important respect: it describes a recurring experience rather than a single concussive event. The boy "many a time" goes out to commune with the owls, in a cacophonous call-and-response that inevitably wanes or stops; and "sometimes" he feels a shock in the midst of the silence. The manic repetition within that dialogue (boy goading owls, owls answering boy, and "redoubled and redoubled" echoes answering both) is mirrored in the boy's regular habit. The boy shapes his hootings with cupped hands "as through an instrument," and the natural amphitheatre of Winander is well acquainted with the performer ("ye knew him well, ye cliffs / And islands"): this is music practice of sorts. And yet within the sway of the habitual, the boy feels this shock--not just once but from time to time. Just as the boy takes continual pleasure in the pastime of hooting at owls, he is struck by their sudden silence on more than one occasion. The specter of that silence is exhaustion, the possibility that the boy (like the owls) might one day tire of the game. Since the anecdote appears in the chapter in The Prelude on "Books," an extended meditation on aesthetic response and changing literary tastes, it is a pertinent possibility. Will the boy's heart always leap up when he hears an owl in the woods? His premature death, in any case, renders that possibility moot.

It also turns the gentle shock into an intimation of mortality, as Paul de Man suggests: "The boy's surprise at standing perplexed before the sudden silence of nature was an anticipatory announcement of his death, a movement of consciousness passing beyond the deceptive constancy of a world of correspondences into a world in which our mind knows itself to be in an endlessly precarious state of suspension...." (17) The impulse to verbalize the boy's mute shock is irresistible, and de Man complicates the moment by describing it as a kind of second-order shock: not the surprise of silence but the "surprise at standing perplexed." This implied consciousness of a state of consciousness is a quintessentially de Manian formulation, and it tallies with Wordsworth's trope of redoubling; but I would argue that it is not entirely true to the nature of surprise in the episode--its dual nature as corporeal and cognitive, its status as both a moment of experience and a vehicle for yet another perception. We might say that Wordsworth's epitaphic postscript, "This Boy was taken from his mates, and died / In childhood," represents an adult effort to give the episode a plangent narrative surprise--the device of many Lucy poems, which the poet pointedly resists in "She Was a Phantom of Delight." It bears repeating, though, that Wordsworth originally represented himself as the boy. Without the added elegiac frame, the surprise need not be a memento mori. Like the reading of a poem, it is an experience that can be repeated with pleasure, forgotten and remembered; and the limits of its potency are left unsaid. Even if the perceptual jolt of sound into silence does wear thin, it has done its work: through it, the boy has gotten the sounds and sights of the scene, as the language of the passage has it, by heart.


It is tempting to say that Wordsworth's "The Two April Mornings" ends in an epiphany. In the inset narrative, the poet's old friend Matthew sees a girl that reminds him of his own daughter, long dead, and in that shock of resemblance, he comes to a new and painful awareness of human irreplaceability, in realizing that he does not long for the girl to be his own child. And yet epiphany does not adequately describe the circuit of surprise that leads to this moment, nor the narrative eclat that follows it. The poem begins with a peculiar interjection that the speaker hears his friend utter one April morning. After long familiarity with the poem, it is easy for us to forget how strange and surprising this cry really is:
 We walked along, while bright and red
 Uprose the morning sun;
 And Matthew stopped, he looked, and said,
 'The will of God be done!'


Both Matthew and the speaker could be called, in Hartman's terms, Halted Travelers: Matthew stops walking, the speaker necessarily follows suit, and the rest of the poem concerns the telling of a story that postpones the two men's unspecified "work." But I would like to suggest that there is something of the eighteenth-century novel in this anecdote: namely the representation of a character's astonishment.

More specifically, I would suggest that Matthew's sudden exclamation evokes similar scenes in Tristram Shandy, a novel with which Wordsworth was well acquainted. (18) There is something fundamentally Shandean about describing a strange interjection and then tracking the mental route to that utterance--giving, in effect, an anatomy of surprise. Matthew's exclamation is reminiscent of a chapter in Sterne's novel which features a psychological ekphrasis of a sudden cry of pain. It is the scene in which the minor character Phutatorius cries, in the company of his associates, "Zounds!" (19) Sterne's narration in this set-piece is both a descriptive tableau and a Lockean micro-history of an action and its consequences, the tracing of a path from physical event to conscious awareness. Sterne's philosophical point is that the meaning of this single interjection, uttered in the midst of a conversation about sermonic styles, cannot be easily decoded. Some hear it as an inexplicable sounding of two musical tones; some dismiss it as "no more than an involuntary respiration" that simply sounds like an intelligible word; and still others presume that the oath is a physical thing, "squeezed out by the sudden influx of blood" brought on by a "stroke of surprise" in reaction to Yorick's unorthodox theory of preaching (287).

None of these theories accounts for the true cause, which turns out to be a hot chestnut errantly lobbed into an opening in the subject's breeches. In a parody of both Lockean empiricism and epic inquiry into origins, the narrator assumes the task of explanation: "When great or unexpected events fall out upon the stage of this sublunary world--the mind of man, which is an inquisitive kind of substance, naturally takes flight, behind the scenes, to see what is the cause and first spring of them ..." (290-91). In his corrective account of Phutatorius' oath, the narrator describes a spreading "glow of pain," playing on the old military sense of the word "surprise": "in the first terrifying disorder of the passion it threw him, as it had done the best generals on earth, quite off his guard" and thus he utters "that interjection of surprise so much discanted upon" (289). It is a Shandean verbal felicity that this interjection, a contraction of "his wounds," originally referred to Christ's stigmata, and thus the connection between physical and cognitive surprise is drawn tighter. The hot chestnut is, like many mundane objects in Sterne's novel, an objective correlative for any mental irritant and a symbolic nexus between mind and body.

Wordsworth's anatomy of Matthew's interjection is not comically belabored, of course, but is Shandean nevertheless. I bring up the correspondence between novel and lyric to emphasize the point that the classification of epiphany does not do justice to the poem's eighteenth-century heritage. Wordsworth's acquaintance with Lockean empiricism and its ramifications in the associationist psychology of David Hartley is well known, but it is worth considering the mediation of those ideas in eighteenth-century fiction. Like Phutatorius' oath or Pope's lock of hair, Matthew's utterance is a trivial thing that swells into significance; the origin and meaning of the cry are not immediately obvious, and its explanation requires a similar inquiry into causes. In the first stanza, it would appear that Matthew's utterance is a greeting of the morning sun as divine symbol, as if the old man were uttering a Miltonic hymn, or echoing a line from the Lord's Prayer. It is only in the poet's puzzled reaction that we see that the statement was not a happy one. Indeed, it strikes the poet as an untimely utterance, a grief that wrongs the season and the day: "from thy breast what thought / Beneath so beautiful a sun, / So sad a sigh has brought?" (14-16). Like the Shandean oath, the utterance is quoted as a verbal statement and represented as an involuntary sound wrenched from the heart--surprise in both cognitive and corporeal forms.

It will take the rest of the poem to explain the causal connection between the morning sun and Matthew's exclamation; and in tracing that link, Wordsworth becomes, in Sterne's terms, a "historian" chronicling a Lockean chain of associations. It is not the "bright and red" sun (1) that directly inspires Matthew's reaction but rather its chromatic refraction in "[y]on cloud with that long purple cleft" (21); and not so much the cloud itself as its association with the look of a similar sky thirty years before, on the day that Matthew stood at his daughter's grave. The difference between sun and sun-lit cloud makes an apt emblem for the indirect path through which Matthew's story is told. Indeed, the poem works by subtle redescription: statement vs. sigh, red vs. purple, sun vs. cloud. These discrepancies accent the different subjectivities of Matthew and the poet, the gap between the initial surprise and its deep meaning.

Like the poem's narrative frame, the old man's story has an involuntary exclamation at its heart; both April mornings contain surprises. On the spring day that Matthew visits his daughter's grave, he is temporarily prevented from turning away from the spot by the sight of a "blooming Girl" (43). The sudden vision elicits "a sigh of pain / Which I could ill confine" (53-54); and like the sigh of sadness that the speaker hears at the beginning of the poem, it is a sound whose meaning needs elucidation. It doesn't exactly mean, "If only you were my Emma," or "If only my Emma were alive like you." Apparently, the gift reminds Matthew of Emma, as his stunned doubletake suggests: "I looked at her, and looked again" (55). So much is conveyed in that bewildered repetition--the uncanniness of the resemblance, the haunted sense that Emma's ghost stands over the grave, the verification that this cannot be the dead girl, the stoic observation of the hard boundary between the living and the dead. The stasis of the moment echoes novelistic scenes of surprise, particularly those in which characters stand mute, as if visited by a revenant (Hamlet's ghost is a frequent locus classicus). The Gospel narrative of Christ's appearance at the tomb also shadows the scene, but the possibility of resurrection is far from Matthew's mind. Whatever the second look is supposed to take in, it does not prepare us for the pang of disavowal that follows: "And did not wish her mine." The visual impact of the blooming girl is quickly succeeded by the cognitive surprise of renunciation. In essence, that second glance reflects Matthew's surprise, and its verbalization in the next line surprises us.

Wordsworth's final stanza deals one further shock, this time the conventional narrative shock of the Lucy poems and other ballads. It is the temporal jolt of an epitaphic postscript: "Matthew is in his grave now." No motion has he now, no force; and yet the memory has a ripple-effect in the poet's mind. The final image of Matthew pictures him "with a bough / Of wilding in his hand" (59-60), and the sheer unexpectedness of this visual detail reminds us of the associative paths on which the poem moves. Presumably, it refers to the fishing-pole that Matthew held on the April morning of his anecdote:

With rod and line I sued the sport Which that sweet season gave, And, to the church-yard come, stopped short Beside my daughter's grave."


The detour at the gravesite is, like the delay of unspecified "work" on the second April morning, a strange interruption; and the participial construction, "to the churchyard come," elides the degree of forethought in the visit, the extent to which Matthew surprises himself in coming here. Wordsworth's redescription of the moment--in terms that return the fishing-implement to its origin in a tree--reflect the poet's own imaginative absorption of the story. The bough of wilding is, like the peculiar shade of red in the sky, an ordinary thing with private meanings attached to a person. Wordsworth's postscript might be seen as the easiest and most conventional form of surprise, but the strangeness of its emblem really does deliver a gentle shock--a hallucinatory image that takes us back to the peculiar cry with which the poem began.


Well over a decade after Wordsworth wrote his "Matthew" poems, "Surprised by Joy" reprises the theme of "Two April Mornings" in a new key: this time, it is the poet who loses a daughter, the poet who stands over a grave, the poet who surprises himself. The sudden feeling of joy that sparks the sonnet is never traced to a perceptual cause, nothing akin to the glimpse of sky that begins "Two April Mornings." I conclude with this poem because its opening phrase crystallizes the interpretive template I have proposed--"surprised by" rather than "epiphany of"--and for the way that the poem formally enacts the feeling of surprise for the reader.

To understand the feeling in Wordsworth's poem, it helps to recall the Miltonic duality of surprise as both quasi-physical event and cognitive state, as well as competing psychological accounts of emotion as "feeling" and as "propositional attitude." For the opening clause has two complementary meanings: "struck by a sudden feeling of joy," and "surprised that I could feel joy." The poem moves between these senses: it begins with a shock and proceeds to elaborate that moment--to pursue the question of how one could have come to that moment in the first place. In effect, the poem comprises the emotion in its propositional form:
 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 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.

In June of 1812, Wordsworth's daughter Catherine, not yet four, died. Neither parent was by her side on the night that she was stricken with severe convulsions, William having gone to London and Mary having gone to Hindwell. (20) The former did not hear of his daughter's death until a week later, so the surprise registered in the poem surely echoes that initial shock, mingled with the guilt of absence. The second form of guilt, implicit in Wordsworth's self-accusatory questions, is that of forgetting--temporarily shedding the state of mourning enough to feel joy, and thinking for a moment that he could share that feeling with his daughter.

Despite the sudden and unbidden nature of the experience, the concept of epiphany does not well describe Wordsworth's sonnet. It is not a showing-forth of the invisible, nor a perceptual gateway; indeed, it represents not a perception but a feeling, which in turn leads to new feelings and thoughts. The moral inflections of surprise that we have seen in Paradise Lost better characterize the poem. The experience of being "surprised by joy" is akin to Miltonic surprise: it feels like an external force, it catches the subject unaware, it comes as if for the first time, and it indicates a kind of fill. In particular, Wordsworth's phrase recalls the jubilation of the victorious angels who are by "unexpected joy surprised" (PL 6.774). In both cases, surprise contrastively defines what has been felt up to that moment--for Wordsworth, a steady-state of grief or blankness, for the angelic host, an anxiety or even subtle despondency over the war's outcome. These feelings might not have been named but for the surprise, which acts as a kind of precipitant. The surprise of joy contrastively defines a prior state of unhappiness; it enables the poet to name the sadness that has been the background of his life since the loss of his daughter. In other words, the past participle, "surprised," looks back (to the previous emotional state) as much as it looks forward (to the cognitive processing of the shock).

The circuit of surprise and recollection traced by Wordsworth's sonnet recalls the dynamics of a genuine epiphany-poem, the Catholic poet Robert Southwell's "The Burning Babe" (1602); and it is instructive to compare the two. Like "Surprised by Joy," Southwell's poem concerns the sudden hallucinatory appearance of a child:
 As I in hoarie Winters night stoode shivering in the snow,
 Surpris'd I was with sodaine heate, which made my hart to glow,
 And lifting up a fearefull eye, to view what fire was neare,
 A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the ayre appeare ...


It will be revealed that the pretty babe is the infant Christ, and the poem recapitulates the Feast of the Epiphany. Two surprises structure this lyric: the sensory jolt of the child's appearance (felt and subsequently allegorized in the form of heat and light); and, in the last couplet, the realization of the child's identity. After explaining himself in a painstaking allegorical blazon, the child disappears, leaving the speaker to make the final conclusion: "With this he vanisht out of sight, and swiftly shrunk away, / And straight I called unto minde, that it was Christmasse day" (15-16). Between the poet's description and the speaking infant's allegoresis, the reader will not fail to have decoded the mystery before the speaker does. Southwell's poem, then, enacts a virtual surprise; it delays the moment of revelation the better to emphasize the act of forgetting the full significance of Christmas. (Even believers who easily guess the mystery, and even those who have read the poem numerous times before can vicariously feel the shock of recognition.) In that space between inattention and knowing, a secular "Winters night" (described in purely sensory terms as "hoarie" and shiverinducing) is renamed "Christmasse Day"; and time significantly passes from night to morning. It could be said, in the allegorical language of the poem, that the speaker already intuits the Christ-child's presence in the first moment of surprise, when the literal winter chill is driven away by a metaphorical warmth. But in a poem that converts all sensory particulars--heat, cold, fire, tears, smoke, ashes--into abstractions, it is important to transform a physical surprise ("sodaine heate") into a cognitive one ("Christmasse Day").

In Wordsworth's poem, joy results from some unspecified surprise, and it causes a second surprise--that of having felt joy. Here, Joy is purely abstract, a cipher for the kind of experience that would have merited an entire poem in Wordsworth's earlier career. The motive force of the wind--central to such surprise-poems as "A Night-Piece," "A Whirl-Blast from a Hill," and "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"--here becomes purely an idiomatic figure for the poet's impatience. In this restlessness, and in the childlike impulse to find a tallying reaction in Catherine, the father becomes like his daughter, for it is the child who typically demands the validating attention of the parent. Such are "the pretty round / Of trespasses, affected to provoke / Mock-chastisement and partnership in play" (4-6) which Wordsworth had described in a poetic tribute to the living Catherine, "Characteristics of a Child Three Years Old." That poem celebrates the child's easy susceptibility to surprise and her ability to startle her elders:
 Light are her sallies as the tripping fawn's
 Forth-startled from the fern where she lay couched;
 Unthought of, unexpected, as the stir
 Of the soft breeze ruffling the meadow-flowers,
 Or from before it chasing wantonly
 The many-colored images imprest
 Upon the bosom of the placid lake.


Surprise here is circular, infectious. The child's sudden movements are compared to those of a fawn that is roused out of its covert--perhaps by the sounds of the child herself. In turn, her "sallies" startle her guardians, coming upon them "unthought of" and "unexpected." The daughter's spirit so permeates the poem that even when Wordsworth likens the girl to the breeze, the breeze inevitably resembles her, in its blithe "chasing" of lake-reflections that it can never catch; as a "character," the poem gives a portrait in which the girl is charactered everywhere. The dual actions of the breeze, ruffling and chasing, imply both the child's effects on her elders and her own self-delighting activities. The poem thus values two kinds of surprise, the kinesthetic and the aesthetic: the sheer caprice and animal reflexes of the child, and the continual capacity for delight that the adult takes in her. The latter's momentary lapse of attention, indicated in the negative participles "unthought" and "unexpected," represents the necessary condition of the adult's surprise, a condition that plays a significant part in "Surprised by Joy."

In the sonnet, the poet's word for the feeling he wishes to share, "transport," serves as a synonym for both surprise and joy. It names the vector from one emotional state (grief or indifference) to another (pleasure); and it describes a moment of ecstatic self-forgetfulness. The poem is built on turns and double-takes, punctuated by dashes, question-marks, and exclamation-points: the initial access of joy; the reflexive movement to share the feeling; the apostrophe to Catherine; the fall into a series of accusatory questions; the Petrarchan volta that marks the renewed awareness of the girl's death. These turns are grammatically reflected by a trio of words with the "re-" prefix: "recalled," "return," "restore." Two intertwined forms of repetition are implied in these verbs: remembering (the reflexive summoning of Catherine) and reminding (affirming an irrevocable absence). The initial mistake of turning to Catherine is corrected in the sonnet by two formal turns: first to Catherine, then back to the sole self. The event that Wordsworth broods on can be grammatically summarized, in its barest outlines, as "Surprised ... I turned."

The poem's opening line is unusual: Wordsworth's sonnets generally do not begin with a participial phrase. A notable precursor is Sidney's first sonnet in Astrophel and Stella: "Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show ... I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe...." (21) Here, the syntax establishes an initial state of mind whose process of verbal expression the rest of the poem will detail. In the same way, Wordsworth's participle "surprised" marks the emotional pivot on which the rest of the poem will turn, and turn again. Rather than participles, Wordsworth's sonnets are more likely to begin with vocative interjections, whether to people or things, the living or the dead, the particular or the abstract: "Beaumont!"; "Calvert!"; "O Gentle Sleep!"; "Hail, Twilight"; "Lady!"; "Brook!"; "Haydon!"; "Jones!"; "Milton!"; "England!"; "Oak of Guernica!" (22) Some of these apostrophes can be attributed to Wordsworth's Miltonic use of the sonnet for public themes (especially in "Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty"); but the poet clearly favored this rhetorical device for intimate addresses as well. For Wordsworth's purposes, the sonnet in its tautness and brevity sustained a fiction of immediate presence, a connection between speaker and audience, solitary self and world. In light of this tendency, we might imagine a different memorial sonnet that would begin, "Catherine!" To do so is to see what Wordsworth pointedly refuses, and to see how important it was to reenact the shock of remembering Catherine's death. Rather than saying, "I turned to share the transport with thee," Wordsworth pointedly interrupts that grammatical flow with a dash, an interjection, and a rhetorical question. This irruption approximates the initial surprise, even as it begins a series of introspective queries.

In essence, the poem is haunted by the specter of two forms of disloyalty, which might be summarized in two rhetorical questions: "Who else but you would I have thought to share this moment with?" and "How could I have been forgetful enough to act as if you were still here?" Or, as declarative statements, they read as: "I was thinking of you," and "l had not been thinking of you enough." That double-bind of allegiance is present in the ambiguity of the statement, "Love, faithful love recalled thee to my mind." Is it Love that makes Wordsworth turn to share the transport with Catherine, or is it Love that reminds him that she cannot be found? Both actions, after all, can be reasonably attributed to Love--the body-memory implicit in the first turn to Catherine and the deliberate awareness involved in mourning her death. But it is really the second act that Wordsworth attributes to Love, for in this poem he values the cognitive over the instinctual--the propositional statement of surprise over the first quasi-physical stab of joy.

To the rhetorical question of what "power" caused the momentary forgetting of Catherine's death, meanwhile, Wordsworth stays silent, refusing to name a counter-agency equal in force to Love. Call it, in the language of Renaissance sonnets, Time or Mutability; like Shakespeare's poems to the young man, "Surprised by Joy" is haunted by oblivion. Wordsworth's poem affirms, remorsefully, that a year or so after Catherine's death it is possible both to feel joy and to stop being constantly aware of that absence. The idea of epiphany, as I have been arguing, does not accurately characterize these surprises. If anything, they amount to a kind of inverse-epiphany, a taking-away rather than a showing-forth; a remembering rather than an entirely new knowledge of reality.

Surprise has a deep history in this poem: the daughter's startling "sallies" affectionately described in "Characteristics of a Child Three Years Old," the surprise of sudden joy, the shock of introspective guilt over the kind of blithe absorption that Wordsworth had celebrated in the earlier poem. In Hume's account of the emotions, any surprise is a potentially disturbing mental "commotion," and so it is with the surprise in Wordsworth's sonnet. Inevitably, the renewed awareness of Catherine's death is associatively linked to the first shock of acknowledging her irrevocable absence. That acknowledgement is described as a "thought," but it returns as a quasi-physical sensation, "the worst pang that sorrow ever bore." Or rather, not the worst, but the second worst, next to that first graveside shock. It is the poet, of course, who endures these pangs, but the Miltonic locution of sorrow bearing (or giving birth to) pain suggests the ground of feeling from which the surprise of joy unaccountably sprang; sorrow has taken up residence in the soul.

Wordsworth's qualification of the superlative, "worst," is a symptom of the poem's halting rhythms of self-correction. Here it is a matter of discriminating subtle degrees of emotional intensity: in the Humean language of perception, the first impression of death is necessarily stronger than its residual mental idea. The attenuation implicit in Hume's model of consciousness is precisely what gives Wordsworth pause in this sonnet: memories fade, the exhausted mind turns away from its preoccupations, and grief itself, in Tennyson's phrase, is mortal. Many years later, after his sister's death, Wordsworth wrote an elegiac sonnet in which he prays for precisely this relief." "And let my spirit in that power divine / Rejoice, as, through that power, it cease to mourn." The controlling terms of "power" and "joy" in the sonnet for Catherine return here in a new key. Here, power is not the impersonal mechanism of temporary forgetting, but rather a religious comfort; and unbidden joy is turned into doctrinally deliberate rejoicing. By this contrast, we can still more clearly see the importance of surprise in the sonnet for Catherine: one can be surprised by joy but never by rejoicing.

As Philip Fisher has put it in his study of the cognitive and aesthetic phenomenon of wonder, "surprise, the eliciting of notice, becomes the very heart of what it means to 'have an experience' at all" (20). (23) The experience in "Surprised by Joy" is both anterior to the poem and constituted by it: both a sudden feeling activated by an unnamed stimulus and the articulation of that feeling. We can see in the sonnet's elaboration of its opening phrase many of the salient features of surprise that I have traced in earlier poems: its affective and cognitive dimensions, its external and internal dynamics, its duality as both event and contemplation, its tinge of guilt or self-accusation, its dependence on states of forgetting or unawareness. The surprise in Wordsworth's sonnet marks a dividing-line in the poet's history; it retrospectively clarifies a prior state even as it defines a new phase of thought. In the conscious, self-censoring path of Wordsworth's moral imagination, the surprise of joy is a Miltonic fall, but it is nearly impossible not to think of it as a fortunate one.

Yale University

(1.) Quotations from Wordsworth's shorter poetry refer to Poetical Works, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, rev. Ernest de Selincourt (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936). Quotations from The Prelude refer to the 1805 version in The Prelude: A Parallel Text, ed. J. C. Maxwell (London: Penguin, 1972).

(2.) Robert Langbaum first applied the idea of epiphany to Romantic lyric in The Poetry of Experience (1957; New York: Norton, 1963), esp. 46-47. For his purposes, the epiphany named the salient feature of what he called the "poetry of experience": the derivation of meaning from individual perception rather than a preexisting order of values or ideas. Langbaum later elaborated this model in "The Epiphanic Mode in Wordsworth and Modern Literature," New Literary History 14.2 (Winter 1983): 335-58. Ashton Nichols explores the topic further in The Poetics of Epiphany (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1987). In Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1971), M. H. Abrams links "the Romantic moment" with the Paterian moment of aesthetic intensity and the Modernist epiphany, but he does so to trace a heritage; he never describes the Wordsworthian spot of time as an epiphany per se. In his influential essay, "Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric" (in Sensibility to Romanticism, ed. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1965]), Abrams examines the poetic structuring of experience around a climactic realization, but he describes this moment more broadly as an insight, a confrontation with loss, a moral decision, or an emotional resolution. None of these forms of thought would necessarily be called an epiphany.

(3.) See Paul Fry, "Clearings in the Way: Non-epiphany in Wordsworth," in A Defense of Poetry: Reflections on the Occasion of Writing (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995). This essay first appeared in SiR 31.1 (Spring 1992): 3-19. The naming of "ostension" as central to literary mimesis is part of Fry's attempt to get beyond traditional accounts of the occasion of writing as either sensuous pleasure (aesthesis) or Kantian sublimity ("astonishment disclosing transcendental reason to itself").

(4.) See Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987). Hartman proposes to think of the Romantic lyric as "a development of surmise." "Though the surmise is not a genre originally, it is a specific rhetorical form whose rise and modifications one can trace and which significantly becomes a genre in the Romantic period" (11).

(5.) The title of Defoe's novel is The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1719). The two adjectives might seem like an excess of advertising, but what "surprising" adds to "strange" is affect--the emotional response activated by the extraordinary, the foreign, or the inexplicable. It also encompasses a wider range of experience, since not everything that is surprising is necessarily strange; the mundane, too, can be arresting. Finally, the participle encompasses the experience of both Crusoe and the reader: both are supposed to be surprised.

(6.) G. Gabrielle Start, Lyric Generations: Novel and Lyric in the Long Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2004).

(7.) The central "Myth of the Passions," Robert C. Solomon observes (The Passions [Garden City: Anchor P, 1976]), is that they are "forces in some sense 'outside' us, beyond our control" (129-30). Rei Terada (Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the "Death of the Subject" [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001]) similarly observes that emotions are often described as imposed upon the subject (as in the expressions "seized by remorse" and "surprised by joy"), while noting that the other dominant trope of emotion is expression--"something lifted from a depth to a surface" (5, 11).

(8.) See Paul Ekman, Wallace V. Friesen and Ronald C. Simons, "Is the Startle Reaction an Emotion?" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49.5 0985): 1416-26. The study involved the firing of a .22-caliber blank pistol behind seated subjects under various conditions: warned or not forewarned, asked to stifle a reaction or asked to feign a reaction. The authors conclude that "being startled feels very different from being surprised, much more different in kind than the difference in feelings between terror and fear, or between rage and anger" 0424). I found this article through a reference by Paul E. Griffiths, who has elaborated the debate in emotion studies as a conflict between a "feeling theory" and a "propositional attitude theory": in the first, emotions are "introspective experiences characterized by a quality and intensity of sensation"; and in the second, they are not merely internal events but mediated by language and subject to rational analysis and moral examination. See Paul E. Griffiths, What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997) 2.

(9.) Quotations from Paradise Lost refer to John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey P, 1957). There are several other instances of military and cognitive surprise in the poem, including: Ithuriel's piercing of Satan's disguise as a toad (4.813-15); the humbling shock to Satan's troops, who "with pale fear surprised, / Then first with fear surprised and sense of pain / Fled ignominious" (6.393-95); and Michael's apocalyptic prophecy that the Son "shall surprise / The Serpent, prince of air, and drag in chains / Through all his realm ..." (12.454-55).

(10.) Joseph Addison, The Spectator No. 412, 23 June 1712 ("The Pleasures of the Imagination"), in Selections from the Tatler and Spectator, ed. Angus Ross (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

(11.) David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Ernest C. Mossner (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985) 169 (1.iii.10).

(12.) As Geoffrey Hartman notes in Criticism in the Wilderness (New Haven: Yale UP, 1980), Wordsworth was "one of the first to talk of sensory shock in relation to the Industrial Revolution: the crowding into cities of people and experiences, the explosion of 'news' in the Napoleonic era, that kind of daily assault on the senses" (29). Though Walter Benjamin would later locate the modern conception of shock in Baudelaire's urban poetry, Hartman points out that Wordsworth got there first. Indeed, Hartman finds Benjamin's notion of shock to be too broad, and related to much older categories of experience--the ecstatic, the mystical, or the demonic (66).

(13.) William Wordsworth, Prose Works, 3 vols., ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974) 1: 128-30.

(14.) See Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. Adam Philips (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990).

(15.) In his reading of"The Solitary Reaper," Hartman notes a "doubled shock"--the initial surprise of the Highland girl's song followed by a pensive "inward sinking" (Wordsworth's Poetry 7).

(16.) For a consideration of the resonance of the word "unawares" in the Boy of Winander episode, "Resolution and Independence," and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," see Steven Lukits, "Wordsworth Unawares," The Wordsworth Circle 19.3 (Summer 1988): 156-60.

(17.) Paul de Man, "Wordsworth and Holderlin," in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984) 54. In his reading of the "Winander" passage, de Man emphasizes the suspension in the phrase "hung / Listening": "It is as if at the very moment that the corresponding echo is lost, the solid ground of a world in which nature and consciousness are 'interwoven' slips out from under one's feet and leaves us hovering between heaven and earth" (52).

(18.) As Duncan Wu suggests in Wordsworth's Reading, 1770-1799 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993), the poet had likely first encountered Tristram Shandy at Hawkshead (132-33) but reacquainted himself with it in adult life. In a letter of 1791, he claims to have read only three volumes of the novel (EY 56), but in 1796 Dorothy reports that she has read it entire; and, as Wu reasonably speculates, her brother probably shared that pleasure.

(19.) Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Melvin New and Joan New (London: Penguin, 2003) 286 (IV.27).

(20.) The circumstances surrounding Catherine's death are detailed in Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989) 286.

(21.) Wordsworth certainly admired Sidney's sonnets, as his homage attests: a sonnet published in 1807 begins with Sidney's own lines, "With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climbst the sky, / How silently, and with how wan a face!"

(22.) These quotations come from the following poems: "At Applethwaite, Near Keswick" (1804, pub. 1842); "To the Memory of Raisley Calvert" (pub. 1807); "To Sleep"; "Hail, Twilight, sovereign of one peaceful hour!" (pub. 1815); "To the Lady Mary Lowther" (pub. 1820); "Brook! whose society the Poet seeks ..." (1806, pub. 1815); "To B. R. Hayclon" (1831, pub. 1832); "Composed near Calais ..." (1802, pub. 1807); "London, 1802" (1802, pub. 1807); "England! the time is come" (1803, pub. 1807); and "The Oak of Guemica" (1810, pub. 1815).

(23.) Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998) 20. Wittgenstein, Fisher notes, raised this issue when he asked in his Brown Notebook, "What does the ordinary feel like? Is it a feeling at all?" By implication, the feeling of surprise contrastively distinguishes the ordinary.
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Title Annotation:William Wordsworth
Author:Miller, Christopher R.
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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