Literature: The World is Too Much With Us

“For this, for everything, we are out of tune…”

The Sea“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours,” says William Wordsworth in a sonnet he wrote in 1806. The poem’s opening line suggests that the reason why we’re disconnected from Nature is that “The world is too much with us.” I’ve been quiet on “Down and Out” for about a week now, which is abnormal, and I think that Wordsworth identifies one of the life-tensions that has been causing that silence. And it’s not just my tension—it’s a tension, I think, that most people in—ahem—civilized societies experience. It’s the tension between work (what Wordsworth would call “getting and spending”) and pleasure (what Wordsworth would probably call taking long walks in the woods). Not all of us associate pleasure with Nature, but Wordsworth has a way of seeing deeper meaning in natural experiences, seeing the beauty for instance in “The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon” or in “The winds that will be howling at all hours.” If we’re “getting and spending” all of the time, Wordsworth reminds us, we’re missing out on the other things that this world has to offer. Wordsworth ends his poem saying that he’d rather be a pagan so that he might be able to take some solace from the glimpses of beauty he sees in nature. Saying this was quite radical coming from Wordsworth, who was known to be conservative in his later years. I’m posting this poem today as a reminder of what it means to be “in tune,” as Wordsworth would say, with what in Nature is ours:

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; / 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.  

-From The Complete Poetical Works, by William Wordsworth, with an introduction by John Morley. London: Macmillan and Co., 1888. Posted online at Bartleby.com.

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