“Surprised by Joy,” 1815 / 1820

Image from Poems by William Wordsworth, 1815

Published in 1815 and then again in 1820, this poem exemplifies Wordsworth’s revision practice. The 1820 text, the version normally anthologized, has two words different from those in the 1815 text. Wordsworth often reworked his poetry throughout his literary career.


In 1812, Wordsworth experienced great loss when two of his young children died. Examining grief’s effect on memory, “Surprised by Joy” reflects on how a moment of remembrance can bring excruciating pain. Wordsworth describes an emotional situation familiar to his audience, a hallmark of his style for which he would become famous. Although the poem’s subject is highly personal, Wordsworth shapes his grief artistically to make it universal.

Contributed by Tiffiny Smart