Wordsworth's Poetical Works

Summary and Analysis of "The world is too much with us"

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The speaker begins this poem by saying that the world is too full of humans who are losing their connection to divinity and, even more importantly, to nature. Humans, the speaker says, have given their hearts away, and the gift is a morally degraded one:

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!

In the second quartet the speaker tells the reader that everything in nature, including the sea and the winds, is gathered up in a powerful connection with which humanity is "out of tune." In other words, humans are not experiencing nature as they should:

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.

The speaker ends the poem by saying that he would rather be a pagan attached to a worn-out system of beliefs than be out of tune with nature. At least if he were a pagan he might be able to see things that would make him less unhappy, like the sea gods Proteus and Triton:

-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 wreathed horn.

Analysis

"The world is too much with us" is a sonnet with an abbaabbacdcdcd rhyme scheme. The poem is written from a place of angst and frustration. All around him, Wordsworth sees people who are obsessed with money and with manmade objects. These people are losing their powers of divinity, and can no longer identify with the natural world. This idea is encapsulated in the famous lines: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; / Little we see in Nature that is ours." Wordsworth believes that we have given our hearts (the center of ourselves) away in exchange for money and material wealth. He is disgusted at this especially because nature is so readily available; it almost calls to humanity. In the end, Wordsworth decides that he would rather be a pagan in a complete state of disillusionment than be out of touch with nature.

The final image of the poem is of Wordsworth standing on a lea (or a tract of open land) overlooking the ocean where he sees Proteus and Triton. He is happy, but this happiness is not what the reader is meant to feel. In actuality, the reader should feel saddened by the scene, because Wordsworth has given up on humanity, choosing instead to slip out of reality.