“The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth is an Italian sonnet first published in “Poems, in Two Volumes” in 1807 along with another one of his famous poems “London, 1802“. The poem describes what the poet feels is increased materialism and devaluing of nature during the First Industrial Revolution.
William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet born on April 7, 1770. Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their publication of “Lyrical Ballads” in 1798. He was poet laureate from 1843 until his death on April 23, 1850. He was succeeded as laureate by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Let’s take a quick look at a summary of William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us” and then have a look at some figurative language he uses look at an analysis of the writing for better understanding.
“The World Is Too Much With Us” is a fairly easy poem to understand once you realize the poem is dealing with the First Industrial Revolution. Wordsworth speaks of the materialism that has come about in this new world. It goes on to speak about how people are valuing things more than they value nature. He claims people are “out of tune” with the world and that he’d rather be a pagan and experience nature than be a Christian and experience materialism.
Of course, he is using the word “pagan” to have multiple meanings and even somewhat bashing the religion at the same time. He is using a hyperbole for the audience to better understand his feelings. This technique was quite common during the Romantic Age. The poets would use a common strict form of poetry, like the Italian sonnet, have a few mentions of something familiar, and then hit them with something revolutionary. In this case, the revolutionary items discussed are the theme and religious elements. Speaking out (even tongue-in-cheek) against Christians during the early-1800s England was not generally a smart idea. However, he did it to perfection and ended up getting poet laureate later on in life.
Title: The World Is Too Much With Us
Style: Italian sonnet in iambic pentameter
Tone: Frustration of the new world
Rhyme scheme: ABBAABBACDCDCD
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- The world is too much with us; late and soon, – The world has become monotonous
- Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers – We are wasting away our lives by simply buying things.
- Little we see in Nature that is ours – We don’t see nature as part of our lives
- We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! – The economic increase has been terrible due to the fact it has made our hearts go away from nature and into materialism.
- This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; / The winds that will be howling at all hours, – He’s simply speaking about nature. He has a personification there with “sea”.
- And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; – Humans are ignoring nature.
- For this, for everything, we are out of tune; – We are no longer in harmony with nature.
- It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; – These two lines are the turning point of the sonnet. It’s as if Wordsworth is telling God that he’d rather become a Pagan even though they are outdated. It is a hyperbole. But also, it is a plea to God. He clearly believes in God (his poem “The Excursion” (1814). He is simply stating the state of the Earth isn’t good and he wants it to change back to the way it was, perhaps even to how it was during Ancient Greece.
- So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; – “lea” is another word for grassland. “Forlorn” means abandoned. Basically, he wants to see something positive.
- Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; – Proteus is the Greek sea-god. Perhaps related, Proteus has connotations associated with adaptability.
- Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. – Triton is a Greek god known as the messenger of the sea.
Poem: “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth
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” by William Wordsworth is an interesting look at the commonalities of past and present in a materialistic world. Many of us don’t realize how much we have in common with the past. We are all human, and we all have wants and needs. This poem speaks to us about essentially what we consider anti-Capitalism and pro-environment. Wordsworth was truly a man beyond his years in more ways than one.