The World Is Too Much with Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
“The World Is Too Much With Us” falls in line with those sonnets of the 1800’s that Wordsworth wrote to criticize the materialistic culture of his times. He is believed to have composed the poem in 1802 when the Industrial Revolution was in full bloom. People then ignored the pristine glory of nature and instead immersed themselves in materialism engendered by the revolution. Now this theme has a universal appeal and is very much relevant in today’s world. Just like the people of Wordsworth’s times we too have enslaved ourselves to materialistic enterprises and pleasures and have lost touch with the spiritual.
The poem has been categorized as a Petrarchan sonnet with an abbaabba cdcdcd rhyme scheme. Wordsworth begins his poem with the traditional abba form but ends with three rhymed couplets cd cd cd rather than cde cde or cdc cdc. Also unlike the traditional octave and sestet, there is in this poem only a brief break, or caesura, in line 9 to distance the previous lines from those that follow. The effect of this is that the reader is immediately transported into the climactic declaration of line Wordsworth has written most of the lines in the poem in iambic pentameter in which a line has five pair of syllables. Each pair consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. However, at times, Wordsworth begins a line with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable as in the first word of line 2 to introduce variety. This would be an example of trochaic meter.
Wordsworth presents the poem in the first person plural in the first eight lines and part of the ninth using we, ours and us. At the end of the ninth line, he switches to the first-person singular, using ‘I’. Use of first-person plural enables Wordsworth to include himself in the reprimand and to chastise the world without making a show of being better than others. In this poem, Wordsworth deplores the materialism and spiritual degradation of his times. Men, he says, are moved only by economic motives and are too much engrossed in the pursuit of wealth and worldly pleasures. This obsession to amass wealth has been a perennial one and will remain so in the future also. This thought is conveyed to us by the words: ‘late and soon’. The poet in line 2 writes: ‘we lay waste our powers’, meaning thereby we are stifling our powers to feel and imagine. We have bartered our souls only to reap a material gain. This material gain has been referred to by the poet as ‘sordid boom’. Now ‘sordid boom’ is an oxymoron because it juxtaposes contradictory words. ‘Sordid’ means shameful or base and ‘boom’ means blessing or reward. Therefore what we have ended up with by giving ourselves up to commerce is a shameful gain/a tarnished blessing. In our quest for this shameful gain, we fail to appreciate the beauties of nature. Nature remains unnoticed like ‘sleeping flowers’. We fail to notice the beauty of the sea, the fury of the winds. And as result of this, the poet tells us that ‘we are out of tune’. That is we are no longer in harmony with nature. Here we need to understand that Nature was for Wordsworth an embodiment of the divine spirit and when he insists that Nature is the greatest of all teachers, he means that a spiritual communion is possible between the in-dwelling soul of the universe and the soul of man.
In the sestet, the speaker dramatically proposes an impossible personal solution to this problem—he wishes he would have been raised as a pagan so that he saw ancient gods in nature/ the different manifestations of nature and thereby gain spiritual solace. If he were a Pagan, he could visualize Gods controlling nature and wouldn’t feel so lonely. Therefore he would rather be a pagan which is an outworn creed. He would then worship the Gods of Nature and he wouldn’t feel that nature doesn’t care about us. His thunderous ‘Great God’ indicates the desperation and intensity of his wish. Here Wordsworth is saying, presumably, that superstition is preferable to worldliness or apathy if it preserves the life of the imagination and our sense of nature as a living presence with a purpose akin to our own. In Christian England, one did not wish to be a Pagan. The poet, however, is not commending paganism at the expense of Christianity but contrasting its poetry with the deadly materialism of modern living which is out of tune with nature’s powers and our own. Paganism, he refers to as an outworn creed but then acknowledges that it can still be a source of imaginative energy and power. The poet concludes with praise for ancient mythology which, despite its paganism, recognised the intrinsic power of nature, as personified by sea deities like Proteus and Triton.