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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The World Is Too Much with Us

(William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, English poet who
served as poet laureate from 1843-1850)

“The World Is Too Much with Us”

These words could serve as the headline over an editorial in your daily paper, but here they form the title of a surprisingly up-to-date sonnet written more than two centuries ago.

William Wordsworth is one of the English Romantic poets, like Coleridge and Keats. These poets favor Nature as the source of happiness over the spiritual poverty of materialism they believe came with the Industrial Revolution. Many of their verses, like this one, make full use of the pathetic fallacy, bringing in Nature by ascribing human qualities and emotions to an inanimate object.

The sonnet below is in the Petrarchan form. The octave sets out the problem — man is out of tune with the world and is losing his soul to wasteful “getting and spending.” The sestet suggests a possible answer — to make himself “less forlorn,” man should gaze at Nature with the same wonder as beheld by the ancient pagans.


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 lea¹,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus² rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton³ blow his wreathed horn.

¹ lea – meadow
² Proteus – sea god in Greek mythology who can take many different shapes
³ Triton – another sea god in Greek mythology; he blows on a twisted conch shell to control the sea

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