William Wordsworth: The World Is Too Much with Us (1807)
Wordsworth was born and lived most of his life in the rural northwest of England known as the
Lake District. Like many other Romantic writers, he saw in Nature an emblem of god or the
divine and his poetry often celebrates the beauty and spiritual values of the natural world. He
revolutionized English poetry with the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798), co-authored with
his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge who contributed "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner" for the volume. In this book Wordsworth sought to break the pattern of artificial
situations of eighteenth-century poetry, which had been written for the upper classes, and to
write in simple, straightforward language for the common man. Other English Romantic poets
would follow Wordsworth's lead in taking apparently insignificant moments and, by
observation and contemplation, raising them to illuminations of experience. Wordsworth
defined poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," intense
"emotion recollected in tranquillity." In the sonnet "The World Is Too Much
with Us" the poet contrasts Nature with the world of materialism and "making
it." Because we are insensitive to the richness of Nature, we may be forfeiting our souls. To
us there is nothing wonderful or mysterious about the natural world, but ancients who were
pagans created a colorful mythology out of their awe of Nature.
What does Wordsworth think is wrong with the modern world?
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; (1)
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, (2)
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus (3) rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton (4) blow his wreathed horn.
(1) Brought up in an outdated religion.
(3) Greek sea god capable of taking many shapes.
(4) Another sea god, often depicted as trumpeting on a shell.
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This is an excerpt from Reading
About the World, Volume 2, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.
The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State
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