The World Is Too Much With Us

The World Is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth

The World Is Too Much With Us Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • In Wordsworth’s sonnet “The world is too much with us”, the speaker suggests that people have been too busy with this materialistic world.
  • The speaker regrets that we have detached ourselves from nature.
  • He wishes that he would rather be a pagan than living this mundane material life devoid of nature.
  • He wants to stand on a meadow by the sea and watch the mythological sea gods Proteus and Triton.

The world is too much with us – Explanation

Lines 1-2

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —

One of the finest poems of Wordsworth starts with the title line of the poem. Here the poet suggests that people are very much busy in their mundane life. They are too much concerned with the worldly, material things and have the least concern for nature. The phrase “late and soon” most probably means that materialism has been a problem in the past (late) and it will continue to be a problem in the future (soon). We are always trying to get more money just to spend them the next moment. Thus, we are wasting our time, energy and intellect for nothingness.

Lines 3-4

Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

In these lines, the speaker regrets that while we are wasting time in acquiring worldly possessions, the true beauty of nature is ignored by us. The nature which is created by God belongs to all of us. But people no longer connect them with the natural world. If we want to get separated from the nature, the harmful effect of nature is seen or felt.

But we have given our hearts to the material things which the speaker calls a “sordid boon”. ‘Sordid’ means distasteful or hateful and ‘boon’ means blessing or advantage. How can these two opposite words seat side by side then? Actually, the speaker has no objection for the limited love of material things. But when people are too much involved with this materialistic world, it becomes ‘sordid’.

Lines 5-8

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;

The speaker here tries to give us glimpses of nature’s beautiful scenarios which should get our attention. The vast sea is facing the moon with her bare bosom like a mother to the moon. Again, the winds that blow strongly throughout the day is so calm now and seem to be gathered in a bundle like sleeping flowers. These are the natural wonders we should observe, feel, realize and enjoy.

The poet regrets that people are not enjoying these beautiful phenomena of nature. Rather, they are engaged in money making and buying things. They are now in disharmony (out of tune) with nature.

Lines 9-10

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

The speaker is unhappy that the natural world leaves no impact on us. Now people are not moved by the beautiful scenes. Our detachment from nature saddens him. The speaker proceeds further to declare his choice. He appeals to God that he would prefer to be a pagan rather than be affected by materialism in the world. He wants to follow outdated religion (creed). In pagan religion, nature is worshipped. The poet thus expresses his love for nature and distaste for this materialistic world.

Lines 11-14

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 wreathed horn.

The speaker imagines that he is standing on some open green piece of land near the sea. He is overlooking the ocean. When he gazes out on the ocean, he might feel less saddened. Perhaps he is trying to see two mythological Gods, Proteus and Triton. Proteus is a Greek God, who can take many shapes. He would be seen emerging from the sea. On the other hand, Triton is the son of the sea god, Poseidon. He has a conch shell that he used to blow into in order to excite or calm the waves. In this way, the speaker would not feel lonely (forlorn) and sad.

The world is too much with us – Into details

Publication

The world is too much with us” is a sonnet written by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. The poem is written in the early 1800s, perhaps in 1802. It was first published in a book titled “Poems, In Two Volumes” in 1807.

Background/context

Wordsworth wrote the sonnet “The world is too much with us” in the year 1802, when Great Britain faced a major social political and economic change because of Industrial Revolution. Many industries are founded here and there. Wordsworth speaks of that materialism that had come about in this new world.

In the then time, people got more money and spent them in buying luxurious things in the pursuit to live life to the fullest. Their desire grew gradually. Thus, the connection between nature and human became thin. The poet felt that in our quest to enjoy life, we were actually missing the real happiness that originates from the nature. And the present poem is the result of that realisation.

Setting

The setting of this poem is unspecified at the beginning of the poem. It was taking place in the speaker’s mind. He was thinking about the growing materialism and how it absorbed people fully. Towards the ending, we find the speaker standing at the shore of the sea, on some patch of gross where he is enjoying the view of the nature. Also, it is happening at night as the poem’s first nature description is of a windless, moonlit scene. The rest of the poem is happening in the mental territory of the speaker.

Title

The sonnet “The world is too much with us” was first published without any title. Now, the very first line of the poem is used as the title. The title represents the main theme of the sonnet – burden of the materialistic world on us resulting in a conflict between nature and humanity. It points that the aspects of everyday life numb us to the emotions evoked by nature.

Wordsworth here uses “us” instead of “you”, because even he himself is not able to escape the harmful effect of industrialization. Something that is “too much” is excess, and therefore tends to cause harm, like the world is for us. He feels that excessive attachment with materialism alienated people from each other. They spend most of their time in less meaningful activities. He is very much sad to see how we are getting detached from Nature. The title here clearly conveys the key concept of the poem even before it starts and is thus apt.

Form and language

“The world is too much with us” is written in Italian sonnet form consisting of 14 lines. It is divided into two parts, octave and sestet. The octave part (first eight lines) presents the problem of materialism and the sestet part (last six lines) is the poet’s solution to that.

The sonnet is important for its rhetorical force. It shows Wordsworth’s confidence with language as a device of dramatic power.

Meter and Rhyme

Wordsworth’s sonnet “The world is too much with us” follows the typical rhyme scheme of Italian sonnet form. The octave follows a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA and the sestet goes CDCDCD.

It is written in iambic pentameter, the typical metrical pattern for sonnets. An iamb is a metrical foot consisting an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. And a pentameter is a line consisting of five feet.

This Sea | that bares | her bos– | om to | the moon;
The winds | that will | be howl– | ing at | all hours,

The world is too much with us – Themes

Nature, Materialism and Loss

In this poem “The world is too much with us”, the relationship between human and the nature seems to be at a loss. That relationship was very good once, but materialism consumes now. Nature is offering real pleasure and beauty to the people, but people are running behind unseen and artificial pleasure and beauty. They have no time to enjoy the beauty of the sea, the moon and the wind. Easily available and natural beauties have been behind by people in the course of getting and spending something artificial, temporary and inanimate. People are “out of tune” and nature “moves us not”. The poet can’t bear this negligence. His feelings are expressed throughout the poem.

The world is too much with us – Symbols

The Sea

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

In the above line, the poet presents the vast sea as a lenient mother exposing her bosom to the moon. This sea can be understood as a symbol of the entire Nature itself. Nature has its own ways and its beautiful aspects. It is kind to us if we understand and treat it well. It is only the nature in the lap of whom we can find solace, peace and happiness.

Winds and Flowers

The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

In lines 6 and 7, the poet presents the discipline that Nature follows through the images of the winds and the flowers. The winds are ‘up-gathered’ taking rest and the flowers are ‘sleeping’ in the nighttime. The same winds will start to blow and the same flowers will unfold once the sun rises. But the relationship between humans and nature is not so close now. We are “out of tune” with nature.

The world is too much with us – Literary Devices

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line is a line of verse that ends with a punctuation. All the lines barring line 9 in the poem “The world is too much with us” are end-stopped lines.

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;

Only line 9 is an exception which is an example of enjambment, i.e., continuation of a sentence to the next line of verse without any pause.

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

Caesura

A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; (‘b’ sound)

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be (‘g’ sound)

Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two things using ‘as’ or ‘like’.

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

In line 7, the motionless winds are compared to sleeping flowers using ‘like’. This is an example of simile in the poem.

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human things.

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;

Apostrophe

An apostrophe in literature is an address to an absent or imaginary person.

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

In line 9 of the poem “The world is too much with us”, the speaker addresses the God to convey his wishes. This is an instance of apostrophe.

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