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.
This month’s poem – on the theme of ‘connection’ – comes to us from one of the best-known poets in the English language: William Wordsworth (1770-1850), our eleventh Poet Laureate. He was also, alongside his friend and fellow-poet Samuel Coleridge, a founding member of the Romantic Movement, a new kind of poetic thinking that (among other things) tried to express a deep and meaningful connection between human beings and their natural environment.
As we can see from the poem above, Wordsworth did not only try to convey the beauty of nature, but also humanity’s difficult relationship with it. His lines talk of ‘waste’, giving ‘our hearts away’, and being ‘out of tune’, as though we are taking too much and giving nothing back. The poem therefore becomes an attempt to rebalance our relationship to landscape: to ‘This Sea’, ‘The winds’, and ‘Nature itself’. One way he does this is to refer to a ‘Pagan’ way of thinking, invoking old emblems of the natural world like ‘Proteus’ and ‘Triton’ to bring things we may have forgotten back to the forefront of our thinking.
He also does this through the poem’s form. If we count the number of lines, we find that there are fourteen. Traditionally, this would classify the poem as a sonnet, which was (and still is) often used to express a feeling of love from one person to another. Wordsworth adds a twist to the form so that, rather than expressing personal love, it investigates humanity’s love for (and fracture with) the world itself. Indeed, he uses the sonnet’s rhyme-scheme to attempt to retune what has become, in his eyes and ears, dissonant.
The sonnet’s octave – that’s the first eight lines – follows a rhyme-scheme of ABBAABB, meaning the same two sounds are frequently repeated, as though the poem is attempting to capture the natural song of the air around us and put us back in tune. The sestet – the next six lines – then makes an acoustic shift by switching to a scheme of CDCDCD. This change in sound might suggest the poem is also making a change in argument, offering the reader a new means of thinking about our connection to nature: one that forgets ‘getting and spending’, and, instead, values the simplicity of ‘standing on this pleasant lea’ and listening carefully for Triton’s ‘weathèd horn’.
In this way the sonnet suggests that our connection to nature can never truly be lost if we simply take the time listen, and retune ourselves to what we often take for granted. According to Wordsworth, lover can be as expansive as this.