August 1, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas
The World Is too Much with Us
By: William Wordsworth (1807)[1]

The world is too much with us;[2] late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature[3] that is ours;[4]
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon![5]
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; 5
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;[6]
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;[7] 10
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus[8] rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton[9] blow his wreathèd horn.[10]

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notes and commentary

  1. This Petrarchan sonnet was composed circa 1802–04.
  2. Indeed, this sonnet is perhaps more apt today as the world seems to have decided it has had enough of us and our careless and wasteful ways. Wordsworth was aware of our transgressions over two-hundred years ago; I wonder if he had any idea where progress would lead? This sonnet surely seems prophetic.
  3. Here, Nature is capitalized as if personified, but Wordsworth more likely uses the capitalization to deify it, like Mother Nature.
  4. I have often said something similar to students: we humans really hate nature. If we could, we would probably eliminate everything natural about ourselves and sequester ourselves in hermetic isolation and wax nostalgic about nature’s beauty—as long as we didn’t have to suffer its inconveniences. If the Singularity nerds are correct: we will soon upload ourselves into our technology, potentially ditching our last connection with nature. Wordsworth would be appalled.
  5. Giving our hearts away to materialism is the sordid gift.
  6. A central metaphor of the sonnet, we are out of harmony with everything since we lost our connection with nature, and, as the next line makes clear, we don’t care.
  7. Wordsworth’s words are powerful and perhaps a mordant critique of a Christian god who has created us in His own image—a wasteful and careless species who has lain waste to that which was put into his care. Wordsworth seems to embrace a more simple life of the pagan who lived in harmony with nature.
  8. The Old Man of the Sea in Homer’s Odyssey who could assume any shape.
  9. A sea deity whose horn is a conch shell.
  10. The sonnet ends with these two mythological demigods that commanded a respect of the sea and nature. Maybe we were better off before we were “saved”?