“The world is too much with us”
By William Wordsworth, 1802-1804
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!
The 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 every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed out worn;
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 world is too much with us,” by William Wordsworth, written between 1802 and 1804, is a Petrarchan sonnet lamenting the lose of nature to modern society. It is a Petrarchan sonnet because it has fourteen lines; is written in iambic pentameter, that is five feet; written in iambs; a unstressed followed by a stressed syllable. It begins with two quatrains in the octave, first eight lines, rhyming ABBAABBA; the sestet, final six lines, rhymes CDCDCD; it has a volta in line eight; and the theme is about nature.
Wordsworth intended to highlight the fact that we receive nature in its abundance but see very little, and have given our hearts away. We need to get up and pay attention because we are out of tune with nature. “Great God,” how could we do such a thing. Wordsworth highlights that information be subtly varying the meter. As well, the poet symbolizes nature in the past by suggesting he would rather be “A Pagan,” which is pre-Christian. Nature itself is symbolized in Proteus and Triton. Proteus is the shape-changing herdsman of the sea; Triton, usually depicted blowing a conch shell, is a sea deity. As with much of Wordsworth’s work, he sees deity in nature.
Although this sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, it does have eight variations. The variations are purposeful; to obtain the attention of the reader. In this case, the variations are in line two, the word “Getting” is a trochee; a stressed and unstressed syllable; line three, the word “Little” is a trochee; a stressed and unstressed syllable; line four, the word “given” is a trochee; a stressed and unstressed syllable; line seven, the phrase “And are up” is an anapest; an unstressed, unstressed and stressed syllable; line eight, the words “we are” and “out of” represent two trochees; a stressed and unstressed syllable, and “tune” is a single spondee; a single stressed syllable; line nine “Great God” is a spondee; a stressed and stressed syllable.
“The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Fourth Edition,” Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar, General Editors, Volume 2A, “The Romantics and their Contemporaries,” Wolfson, Susan and Peter Manning, Long Man, New York, New York, 2010.