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William Wordsworth's "The world is too much with us"

Updated on April 21, 2016
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962

William Wordsworth

Source

Commentary

The speaker in Wordsworth's sonnet wishes to retrogress to paganism while still retaining the values of post-enlightment Christianity.

William Wordsworth's Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, "The world is too much with us," is played out in an octave that presents a problem and a sestet that dramatizes a potential solution.

The speaker feels that people have become too materialistic, and he would have them turn their vision to the spiritual level of being that appreciates the natural world. He wishes he had been born in earlier times when materialism had not held such sway in the lives of the population.

The Octave: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers"
This speaker is deeply influenced by the Romantic notion that nature is godlike. He believes the world has come "too much for us" with people working greedily and busily for money and things. This toil leaves them no time to enjoy the gifts of the natural world.

Modern individuals have abandoned their own souls in favor of worldly striving. They pay no attention to the yearnings of the heart. The mind has become too involved. Feeling is subjugated as, "We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!"

This speaker does retain the ability to discern fine feelings and soul qualities as he asserts, "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."

His acute discernments are not typical responses, as he would have readers understand; for most folks, he asserts it is true that, "For this, for everything, we are out of tune."

Every age has those who observe natural, soul qualities and follow a spiritual life, as well as those who are grossly materialistic in their thinking and behavior. Those out-of-tune folks are to be pitied and lamented as they remain oblivious of the finer gifts of nature and nature's Divinity.

This speaker decries the "Industrial Revolution" that has caused hulking, dirty factories to be built for producing things. He feels that too much space and time are being taken up just to manufacture things. And too much time is spent by the populace just working to attain those things.

The Sestet: "It moves us not. Great God!"
The speaker becomes very animated about the issue. He insists that he would have preferred to live in earlier times when people appreciated natural objects like the ocean, the moon and stars, and the breezes that cool the land.

The speaker goes to the extreme of wishing he could have been born a Pagan. If he had been able to learn about the ancient gods, he believes he would be more perceptive and would be able to detect "Proteus rising from the sea." He would also have been able to hear "old Triton blow his wreathed horn."

Final Comment
The speaker's stated wishes are, of course, the stuff of pure fantasy, but his purpose is not to engage logic and reason; he wants to dramatize the efficacy of feeling and admiration over the acquisition of material objects.

This speaker, who is the product of post-enlightenment Christianity and who is also learned in the great literature of the world, has the vision to realize that a spiritual life needs to guide mankind always or else that "sordid boon," the heart, will be given away permanently.

Reading of Wordsworth's "The world is too much with us"

The Complete Works of William Wordsworth

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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