The World is Too Much With Us: Summary by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth gave arguably the best definition of poetry i.e. “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Most popular for his publication of Lyrical Ballads with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wordsworth had a huge contribution to the rise of Romanticism in literature.

William Wordsworth’s popular poems include I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold, A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal, The World is Too Much With Us, just to name a few.

Wordsworth’s poem The World is Too Much With Us is a sonnet with an octave and a sestet. So, let’s read the poem first and then you can find out its summary, analysis, and theme in respective subheadings below.

William Wordsworth’s Poem The World is Too Much With Us

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 lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

The World is Too Much With Us: Summary

William Wordsworth’s poem The World is Too Much With Us laments the disconnection, or let’s say, the loss of connection between nature and human beings. As a romantic poet, Wordsworth advocates for both physical and spiritual connection with nature.

In the very beginning of the poem, the speaker declares that “The world is too much with us.” It suggests that we are so much habituated with the world, leaving nature behind. We earn and spend extravagantly which, according to the poet, means wasting our powers. We do not acknowledge nature for what it has to offer. Instead, “We have given our hearts away” to which the speaker calls a “sordid boon.”

The sea still shows her bosom to the moon, the wind still howls at all hours, and clouds gather make beautiful scenes. But unfortunately, we are not in tune with nature i.e. we do not fit into nature. The speaker claims that such natural happenings no longer touch us because we perceive nature only in terms of commodity values. As a result, the speaker wishes to become a pagan with outworn creed so that he could stand on natural meadows and feel less lonely which means escaping from the commercial world. By doing so, he hopes to see an extinct sea creature, Proteus, and hear old Triton blow his horn.

The World is Too Much With Us: Analysis, Form, Rhyme

William Wordsworth wrote his sonnet The World is Too Much With Us in 1802 but published only five years later in 1807. During this period, the industrial revolution was highly influential which pushed people to adopt a lifestyle of manufacturing.

Regarding its form, The World is Too Much With Us is a Petrarchan sonnet that consists of an octave and a sestet. The rhyming pattern of the poem is abbaabba cdcdcd. 

In this poem, ‘the world’ refers to the civilization which has come forward by ignoring nature. ‘Getting and spending’ for which ‘we lay our powers’ means activities that take place in an industrial world. For Wordsworth, the world is not as great as ‘Nature’ but we do not tend to see natural gifts. In the fourth line of the poem, the poet uses an oxymoron ‘sordid boon’. It suggests that industrialization of the world is undoubtedly a boon but the way of the industrial world is questionable. Wordsworth calls industrialization a sordid boon because this process involves the destruction of Nature.

Wordsworth addresses Sea as a feminine character in order to show her fertility. Like a woman is capable of giving birth to a baby, the Sea also has the capability of giving life to numberless creatures. The references of Sea, wind, flowers signify the eternity of nature. But the mistake human civilization is doing is they are going ‘out of tune’ with nature.

In ninth and tenth lines of The World is Too Much With Us, the speaker wishes to be ‘A Pagan suckled in a creed outwarn’. It means, instead of wearing modern outfits, he prefers traditional costumes which are considered to be outworn today. The fact that he wishes to be a Pagan also suggests that the concept of spiritualism is outdated. Moreover, he also finds ‘standing on lea’ more pleasant than living in furnished houses.

Furthermore, we can make out that due to industrialization, the population is also rapidly increasing. Hence, the speaker feels lonely in a crowd while he feels secure and less lonely in Nature. He further laments for he cannot “Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;/ Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.” Proteus and Triton are extinct creatures and the speaker proposes civilization guilty.

The World is Too Much With Us: Theme

William Wordsworth’s poem The World is Too Much With Us carries the themes of industrialization, loss of spiritual connection between nature and human beings, destruction of nature, loss of spiritualism.

  • Industrialization – Wordsworth published his poem, The World is Too Much With Us in a period when industrialization was rapidly growing. Due to the industrialization, human beings have shifted their focus from spiritualism to consumerism.
  • Loss of spiritual connection between nature and human beings – According to Wordsworth, spiritual connection between nature and human beings no longer exists. It is because industrialization has taught them to see nature in terms of consumer values.
  • Destruction of nature – Industrialization directly affects nature. For instance, the speaker can no longer see a Proteus and hear a Triton blow its horn.

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