It was Catherine however who had the biggest impact on Wordsworth emotionally and I would argue his creativity. Surprised by Joy (Appendix 2) is Wordsworth’s heart-breaking sonnet which begins in joy and ends in sorrow. At the beginning, following Catherine’s death, the first time he experiences joy Wordsworth is surprised by a feeling he never expected to experience again. He quickly turns to share it with someone, but that someone has gone. “I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom but thee, long buried in the silent Tomb.” I pick up the phone to call Dom all the time, only to realise he isn’t there anymore, even though his number is still is in my mobile. How could I even contemplate deleting it?
Wordsworth too realises that Catherine isn’t there and won’t ever be there again. He is acutely aware of his grief. It sweeps over him, blotting out any hint of earlier joy. He seems to experience the shock of loss all over again just as it had consumed him when he first heard the news of her death. Surprised by Joy ends with the realisation that his joy would always be swept away in grief because no amount of time could ever bring back to him that “heavenly face” that he was missing so dearly.
Poets seem to be well equipped to capture their grief in their words. Two Hundred years earlier in 1603, Ben Johnson wrote his elegy On My First Son (Appendix 3) following the death of his seven-year-old boy from the plague. In the poem, Johnson struggles to answer the questions that Wordsworth and I also couldn’t answer either: Can he recover from this hammer blow? And if he can, what could possibly compensate him for the loss? The death of Dora stops Wordsworth from writing. After Benjamin dies Johnson vows never to love anything ever again. I find myself at the edge of Bowscale tarn looking for the impossible, improbable immortal fish. Again, I’m not a poet. I’m not famous. How can I write meaningfully and passionately about my son’s death? What clever, or even weaselly words, can I weave together that will bring him back to life?