William WordsworthS Poem The world is too much with us by William Wordsworth William Wordsworth’s poem The world is too much with us is a statement about conflict between nature and humanity. The symbolism in his poem illustrates a sense of the conviction and deep feelings Wordsworth had toward nature. He longs for a much simpler time when the progress of humanity was tempered by the restriction nature imposed. Wordsworth is saying in this poem that man is wasting his time on earth by not appreciating nature around him. He is looking but not beholding.
“We have given our hearts away” (4) means that we have sold the part of us that is from the earth (man which is from dust) in order to make other things more important than appreciating life; such as, money or advancement in employment or just acquiring more “things.” In Latin, the word “Pectus” can mean heart, but it can also mean the entire body, or the soul. Wordsworth is saying that we have given our very souls away. Wordsworth gives a pessimistic view of the world, past and future. The words “late and soon” (1) in the opening verse describe how the past and future are included in his characterization of mankind. The author knows the potential for humanity, but the mentality of “getting and spending” (2) clouds the perspective of humanity. Wordsworth does not see us as incapable; in fact he describes our abilities as “powers”.
“We lay waste our powers” (2) is blamed on the earlier mentioned attitude of “getting and spending” (2). The desire man has for devouring all that is around, darkens the perspective as to what is being sacrificed for the progress. The “sordid boon” (4) we have “given are hearts” (4) is the worldly progress of mankind. Wordsworth is saying humanity has become self-absorbed and can no longer think clearly. The destructiveness society has on the environment will proceed freely and unmerciful like the “winds that will be howling at all hours” (6).
Unlike society, Wordsworth does not see nature as a commodity. The verse “Little we see in Nature that is ours” (3), shows that coexisting is the relationship envisioned. This relationship appears to be at the mercy of mankind because of the vulnerable way nature is described. The verse “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon” (5), gives the vision of a woman exposed to the heavens. In addition, the phrase “sleeping flowers”(7) might also describe how nature is being overrun unknowingly. Wordsworth seems to foresee the inevitable, because he sees himself as one with the environment.
The verse “I, standing on this pleasant lea, have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” (11-12), shows Wordsworth as a visionary who is not responsible for the destruction of nature. In addition, the change Wordsworth is hoping for will come in the form of a mighty revolt by nature. This is why Wordsworth reaches back into ancient Greece for their gods who symbolize nature and strength to make the change. Proteus was a sea god who could change his appearance to get away from capture. Proteus is seen rising from the sea, facing the injustices inflicted upon nature, placing the cycle of life back in balance.
The ability to change ones appearance is critical in facing the variety of threats mankind might impose. The god Triton was also mentioned as a savior to nature as well. Triton was the most imposing of the gods because he was master of the seas. I believe Wordsworth selected a sea god as the savior to the world to represent a re-birth. Water is a symbol of new beginnings (birth itself with the amniotic fluid and baptisms, which take place in water) and when the sea gods rise from their watery depths to correct the excesses of humanity, a re-birth will have taken place for the world. Wordsworth states he would rather be a “pagan suckled in a creed outworn” (10) than go on as he is.
Pagan, although shunned by Christianity as an institution because they are polytheistic and are known for worshipping nature, are more appealing to Wordsworth than the accepted Christianity of his time because at least paganism recognizes the importance of a human’s surroundings. The image of Proteus rising out of the sea or Triton with his horn at the end of the poem are Wordsworth’s attempt to reconnect with all that is magical and mystical about the sea. Instead of looking at the sea (or nature, in general) and being able to scientifically explain what’s going on, Wordsworth looks at the sea and beholds the mystery beneath the waves. Overall, Wordsworth’s use of symbolism in his poem illustrates a sense of the conviction and deep feelings he had toward nature; however, he sees himself as having insight to the problems. The materialistic progress being made by mankind is not without consequence, and the destruction of the environment by mankind’s shortsightedness will continue as Wordsworth has foreseen. The change hoped for by the author will not come as a result of an initiative by humanity, but as an uproar by mother nature in the form of a battle.
This battle will bring forth a victory for the environment and stimulate a re-birth for the world. William, Wordsworth. “The world is too much with us.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 2A: The Romantics and Their Contemporaries, ed. Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning. Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 1999. 360.