The World is Too Much with Us
An annotation & explication on a Sonnet written by William Wordsworth
Sordid: (Adj) Immorality, Selfishness. This touches on the Immorality or materialism and the selfishness that said materialism created.
Boon: (Noun) Something beneficial; Blessing. The industrial revolution was seen as a blessing or benefit to many, but William saw it instead as a “sordid boon”. This means while it was disguised as a blessing it is truly a detriment
Creed Outworn: (Noun) Creed is a system of religious beliefs and a “creed outworn” is a system of beliefs that is out of date.
Pagan: A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. The term pagan is from the Latin “paganus” as a noun, it was used to mean “country dweller” or “villager” (Wiki). Though it refers to a wide range of people, the heart of paganism is nature. They are deeply conscious of the natural world and live eco-friendly lifestyles (BBC). The most common character of Pagan worship is gods & goddesses (Patheos). A characteristic of Pagan traditions is the belief of a living mythology, which explains the use of Proteus and Triton.
Proteus: An early sea god in Greek mythology whom Homer calls the “Old Man of the Sea” also known as the shepherd of sea flock. Some call him the god of “elusive sea change,” which suggests the constantly changing nature of the sea or the liquid quality of water in general (Wiki). He knew all things – past, present & future, but will change his shape to avoid having to (Britanicca). From Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”.
Triton: A mythological Greek god, the messenger of the big sea. He is usually represented as a merman, having the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish. Triton was known for his twisted conch shell, on which he blew like a trumpet to calm or raise the waves (Wiki).
The poem “The World is Too Much with Us” was written in the form of a petrarchan sonnet which is divided into 2 parts. The first eight lines (octave) introduce the problem and the following 6 lines (sestet) suggest the solution. It was written as a criticism of the new world formed by the first Industrial Revolution in the early 1800’s. This was one of many sonnets against what he called the “decadent material cynicism of the time”. Wordsworth was a “Romantic” poet which meant he favored natural and emotional themes and opposed the idea of urbanization. The Industrial Revolution caused a wave of materialism which Wordsworth strongly disagreed as well as the growth of the metropolitan and felt nature should be preserved and appreciated.
The world is too much with us; late and soon
In the beginning of line one “The world…us”, William’s words “too much” expresses an overwhelmed world. We have somehow put too much weight and stress on this world that it seems to be out of balance. The phrase “Late and soon” causes concern to me as the word late can refer to someone who is dead. Late may be a warning that the world, if continued to be lead down this path of industrialism, will be gone. “And soon” adds urgency of this issue. All in all, the opening line tells us the world is not capable continuing this way and will end. On the other hand it could show the permanence of this problem as it will not only be a problem now but in the future.
Getting and spending; we lay waste our powers
Little that we see in Nature is ours
This line strongly touches on our materialistic ways. We have lost and wasted the powers a natural world provided. We are, in a way, spending and wasting the richness that nature provided us. The following line explains that this is not even ours to be spending or wasting. William capitalizes the N in Nature to show it is not a commodity but its own being to be respected.
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The sea that bares its bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers
He believes we have “given our hearts” and given our loyalty to this selfish blessing or “sordid boon” that materialism is. On the exterior appears to be a blessing and benefit to us but in reality it is immoral, selfish and detrimental to society. Personification allows the sea to be used as a feminine creature that opens herself to the moon, upset winds that will howl at all hours along with sleeping flowers paint the picture of a helpless and vulnerable nature.
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
He is now in distress over this, explain we are out of tune or blind to the harm we are causing. We cannot see how the earth is calling for our attention and if some do, they do not care. We remain unaffected by this pain we are causing our own earth. He pleads “Great God! I’d rather be” which ends the octave or the problem and now introduces the concluding sestet or the solution.
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 Triton blow his wreathed horn.
William’s solution to this issue is to become a Pagan, which is a nature loving, myth worshipping group of people. Though converting to Paganism is used as a solution, he insults it by calling it a “creed outworn”, in other words a religious system that is obsolete. Pagans believe in living Mythology, which is why Wordsworth included the sea gods Proteus and Triton. More so he used the all-knowing god, Proteus, who could foresee the future which also ties in with the earlier line “late and soon”. “So might I, standing on this pleasant lea/Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” show he would be more content in believing in characters that are fictitious than see the disappointments around him in this new world.
All in all, the poem is a plea to the public to discontinue their materialistic ways and open their eyes to the beautiful world that stands before them. From the sea, winds and pleasant lea’s, he asks that we respect nature and see that it is not a given, but a privilege to be appreciated.
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