Another Famous English Poem in an Easy Line-by-Line Explanation
The World Is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon
By William Wordsworth
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 everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 10 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. Published in 1807.
You might like to turn on a reading of the poem. Here is one:
You might also have a look at this impressionistic video. I think it illustrates the meaning of the poem well, but the rhythm of the verse gets completely lost!
14 Lines = a Sonnet
The World is Too Much With Us is a sonnet. Sorry to disappoint you, but we’re not going to have a discussion about sonnets. For that, you’ll have to take a poetry course. All I will say here is that a sonnet is a traditional poetry form that was invented in Renaissance Italy. It has 14 lines in a particular rhyme scheme and rhythm. Its subject often is love.
The English poet William Wordsworth lived from 1770 to 1850.
He was one of the greatest English Romantic poets. What’s a romantic poet? In Romanticism, artists faced some hard and interesting dilemmas. On the one hand, the times changed rapidly: socially, politically and economically. This was the period of the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Instead of nobles and kings, big factory owners ruled it over the ever growing working classes, who didn’t profit from the changes in society but got poorer. Does this sound familiar to you? There are some similarities with today.
Wordsworth and most other artists of the time were at first enthusiastic about all the attempts to overthrow the old order, until they realized that some very nice old things had disappeared. Nature got ruined by too much dirty industry. Money corrupts people, and makes them work like slaves. Beauty and magic are replaced by the rules of capital and commerce.
In later years, it’s no big surprise that Wordsworth and some of his colleague poets became very conservative in their outlook. They longed for a simpler life and imagined things had been better in the past.
In his art, however, Wordsworth did something new. He was one of the first poets who said that poetry is about feelings. Personal feelings. Poetry from earlier periods talked about familiar situations that are common to everybody. Wordsworth described his own experiences and how his own feelings and thoughts shaped those experiences. He also invented new poetic forms to do this. He would sometimes adapt traditional or classical poetic forms and at other times invented his own forms. He used a lot of unrhymed verse.
So now you have some background.
Reading the Poem
Now let’s read the poem (sonnet) again, and explain each line:
THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
We can never be alone and at peace anymore. There are always people around us, and things are busy around us. Late and soon means in the past and in the future, so actually all the time.
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
We’re thinking about earning and spending money all the time. But what for? We’re wasting our energy.
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We’re out of touch with nature.
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
We’ve traded our hearts for work, money, fame and things that we need to survive in the world. A boon is a gift, and sordid can have a number of negative meanings: it can mean poor, ugly, dirty, contemptible, and greedy.
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The poet is standing at the shore (beach) and he’s looking out over the sea that is naked to the moon. The sea could be a symbol of nature; something that is endless, pure and untouched.
The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
The winds are going to be shouting (like when there is a storm) but they are closed now and at rest like sleeping flowers.
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
However we don’t notice there’s a storm coming soon, because we’re out of tune (out of touch) with nature.
It moves us not.
We don’t care about nature anymore.
--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
Now comes the big change in the poem. The poem exclaims that he would prefer to live in the past and be an old-fashioned pagan. A pagan is someone who doesn’t believe in any religion (“creed”) or in God. Usually a person is meant before Christianity. Outworn means old-fashioned. The poet is referring to antique times (Greek and Roman times) when people believed that the sun was a god and there was a god of the sea (Proteus and Triton who are mentioned in the last lines of the poem were both sea gods in classical mythology).
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
A lea is a meadow.
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
A glimpse is a look. The poet thinks that he’s able to see things that would make him less sad and lonely.
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
He can see that old sea god come out of the sea.
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Or hear the other sea god blow his horn. A horn is a wind instrument, like a trumpet; in ancient times it was often made of an animal horn, the hard pointy things on some animals’ heads. And it’s wreathed, which means curled (see picture).