As humans, we often fail to notice the beauty and magnificence of the natural world that surrounds us at all times. Whether it be the elegance of our ocean’s tides or the roaring colors of a sunset in the sky, we are constantly focusing our attention elsewhere, alienating ourselves from the world around us. William Wordsworth shares his frustration with this issue in his poem, “The World is too Much with Us.” Through poetic devices such as personification, oxymorons, metaphors, and more, Wordsworth effectively gets his overall message across that humanity has lost touch with all of nature’s beauty.
Wordsworth’s disappointment in mankind is almost instantly apparent as the piece opens up with a complaint. Starting with the titular first two lines of the poem, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” the speaker portrays humanity’s fixation on “getting and spending,” or consumerism, in a tone of sadness. These lines suggest that we as humanity allow ourselves to devote all of our time and energy to materialistic pleasures while we miss out on the beauties of the natural world. We’re throwing our “powers” out and starving our souls of what they deserve. “Late and soon” suggests that this issue with consumerism and materialism has been an issue in the past and that it will continue to be an issue in the future. The following two lines in the piece build on this, as do the tones of complaint and disappointment. “Little we see in Nature that is ours” suggests that humanity is drifting away from the natural world – we don’t look towards nature for answers or to appreciate it, almost like it isn’t even there. The next line, “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” is probably the most interesting line in the entire piece. The speaker feels like our lives are becoming empty and even dark; we’ve given our hearts away at the price of what? “A sordid boon” is also a strong oxymoron – the words “boon” and “sordid” contradict each other, showcasing a little sarcasm within the speaker as he shares his feelings that consumerism is both destructive and a blessing. Material goods bring us pleasure as people and can also be a symbol of humanity’s progress in life, but at the time same, material goods feed into some of the worst aspects of humanity, such as greed and hierarchy. The first few lines lay out the overall message that humanity is out touch with the natural world very clearly. These lines also set the rest of the piece up nicely, allowing the speaker to give examples of our world’s beauties and how we ignore them.
Wordsworth uses the next couple of lines to elaborate on his message through powerful imagery and multiple other poetic devices. He begins by using personification to describe the moon’s “relationship” with our ocean’s tides – he paints this fascinating image of the sea showing “her bosom to the moon,” which in reality obviously doesn’t happen. By giving nature these human-like characteristics, Woodsworth is able to reinforce his argument by bringing a quality of nature to light that most people don’t acknowledge. In the following two lines, “The winds that will be howling at all hours, and are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,” Wordsworth uses both a metaphor and a simile to describe the beauty of the winds. He compares the roars of the wind to a wolf “howling at all hours” and then uses “like” when comparing the wind to “sleeping flowers” as it settles for the night. The eighth line of the poem, “For this, for everything, we are out of tune” is another pretty interesting line in the piece. Wordsworth uses some type of musical instrument as a metaphor for humanity, suggesting that we are out of “tune,” or aren’t in harmony with the rest of the natural world. We don’t acknowledge the spectacular aspects of nature like the examples he gives of the ocean’s tides and the stillness of a long day’s wind. This line might be the most powerful in the entire piece as it clearly lies out the message that Wordsworth is trying to get across, while also allowing for the poem to shift within the following lines.
The tone of the first eight lines is pretty clear – the speaker is frustrated with humanity and how we prioritize money and materialistic things over the natural world. The form within these lines is also pretty clear. Because this piece is a Petrarchan sonnet, the first 8 lines act as an “octave,” where the argument is presented. The rhyme scheme of ABBA, ABBA is also present as Wordsworth rhymes words like “soon” and “boon,” or “hours” and “flowers.” Although the piece isn’t split up into stanzas, it almost feels like it is. The ninth line takes the poem in a different direction; it “shifts” to more of a sarcastic tone, similar to what was hinted at in the fourth line of the piece. A shift after the eighth line is common with Petrarchan sonnets – it directs the piece to a new direction to forego an argument. Wordsworth uses this shift to wish for a different reality; a reality where he doesn’t have to worry about humanity’s ignorance, increasing the effectiveness of his message.
The final six lines of the piece take the poem into more of a sarcastic tone with stunning new images and powerful metaphors. Lines nine and ten, “It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,” showcase the speaker’s wishes to be a pagan, believing in a religion that’s more than outdated. Not many people would wish for something as crazy as this, but the speaker is just so saddened by what he sees in humanity that maybe some other lifestyle would be easier on him. Wordsworth also uses nursing as a metaphor in these lines when comparing the act to one’s relationship with religion. The next two lines, “So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” build on the speaker’s absurd wishes. We find out that he wishes to be an oblivious pagan so he would be able look at nature and see “glimpses” of things that don’t make him sad. If he were a pagan, he’d be able to look out to the meadow in front of him and see mythological beings like Proteus or Triton, which the final two lines of the piece suggest. He wouldn’t be overwhelmed with feelings of disappointment and sadness like he feels now – he could be distracted like everyone else seems to be. Although the wishes of the speaker in these final lines seem sarcastic or outlandish, they’re actually quite powerful. Readers truly get an idea of how deeply frustrated the speaker is with mankind and how much we’re alienating ourselves from the natural world.
In conclusion, Wordsworth’s overall message that humanity fails to see the beauty in nature is made perfectly clear through his various poetic devices and writing form. The first four lines of the piece showcase the speaker’s frustration with society’s disregard for nature through oxymorons and various tones of complaint, sadness, and disappointment; the following four lines use vivid imagery, personification, metaphors, and similes to dive into solid examples of how mankind alienates itself from nature; and Wordsworth shifts the tone in the final six lines of the piece to his advantage to showcase the speaker’s wishes for a different reality. Readers are transported into a section of his mind and truly get an understanding of Wordsworth’s frustrations with humanity.