Saturday, January 17, 2015

Surprised by Literature

As an English major I frequently get asked who my favorite author is. In my opinion this question is impossible to answer; however, I usually respond with a list and near the top of that list is William Wordsworth. I love his poetry with its nature imagery and how he is able to put human emotion into words. One poem in particular is my favorite. It's titled "Surprised by Joy."
In this poem Wordsworth, who had personally experienced loss multiple times, explains the moment when you experience something happy and turn to share the moment with someone near to you only to remember that they've passed away. The shock of that moment is startling and painful and Wordsworth captures it beautifully in words.
I remember the first time I read this poem. Its accuracy and emotion hit me hard. I knew exactly what it described. I had lost my sister to cancer a few years before and knew all too well the feeling of being "surprised by joy."
The truth of Wordsworth's words taught me something powerful. They showed me that human truth was found in more than just scripture. They also reinforced to me why we read and study literature. We don't read just because it's fun. We read because literature connects us and teaches us so much about life and what it means to be human. Literature helps us through life because it shows us that we aren't alone, something I was taught by William Wordworth.

My sisters and I shortly before Madey passed away

Other spiritual literary experiences:
- Reading board books to my baby nephew and watching him learn through what I read
- Listening to my parents read stories to my sisters and I when we were kids
- Writing fiction and nonfiction based on my personal experiences
- Helping students in the writing center learn the power of writing through tutoring
- Reading poetry while hiking near my home and realizing just how accurately the words described nature
- Finding a good quote in a book that applies to my life, especially at that particular moment


  1. I've never read that poem of Wordsworth's, but I want to now. I've had something similar to that feeling when I've turned to share my joy with someone and remembered that they're not with me.

    Like you, I also remember fondly my mom reading to my sister and me as kids. I hope to do the same for my children someday.

  2. I am totally the same when people ask who my favorites are. I can't just pick one!
    I also love your line about how human truth is found in more than just scripture. I love that we can be open to learning about other cultures and ways of life because there is truth scattered though out all of life and there is a lot we can learn from others' experiences.

  3. I love how Wordsworth and other great writers have moments like that--little gems of doctrine in them that you can relate to and apply in life. This was a beautiful post; thank you for sharing!

  4. I love Wordsworth, and I know I need to go find that poem. I love how human emotional is so universal that you and Wordsworth can feel the same thing. Loss is something people have been trying to cope with forever, and it seems we're all trying to figure it out together.

    I like in your other-experience section when you mention reading board books to your nephew. We take those simple experiences for granted a lot of times, so I'm glad you listed it. There's nothing like watching a small child develop and learn.