A Poem by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2007
Type of Work
.......William Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us" is a lyric poem in the form of a sonnet. In English, there are two types of sonnets, the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean, both with fourteen lines. Wordsworth's poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, developed by the Italian poet Petrarch
(1304-1374), a Roman Catholic priest.
First stanza (octave): abba, abbaComposition and Publication
.......William Wordsworth is believed to have composed the poem in 1802, when the Industrial Revolution was in full flower. No doubt the materialism the revolution engendered was one of the reasons Wordsworth wrote the poem. He published it in 1807 as part of a collection, Poems in Two Volumes.
.......Society is so bent on making and spending money in smoky factories and fast-paced business enterprises that it ignores the pristine glory of nature, which is a reflection of the divine. This is a universal theme that remains relevant in today's world.
.......The tone is angry, modulated with sarcasm and seeming vengefulness. First, the poet scolds society for devoting all its energies to material enterprises and pleasures. While pampering their bodies, he says, people are starving their souls. He next announces sarcastically that he would rather be a pagan; at least then he could appreciate nature through different eyes and even see Proteus rising from the sea—perhaps to wreak vengeance on complacent humankind.
.......Wordsworth presents the poem in first-person plural in the first eight lines and part of the ninth, using we, ours, and us. At the end of the ninth line, he switches to first-person singular, using I. Use of first-person plural enables Wordsworth to chastise the world without seeming preachy or sanctimonious, for he is including himself in his reprimand.
.......Wordsworth wrote most of the lines in the poem in iambic pentameter, in which a line has five pairs of syllables. Each pair consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Lines 5 and 6 demonstrate this pattern.
.......1.................2................3..............4................5.......Wordsworth veers from this pattern in lines 2 and 3, in which he stresses the first syllable of each line.
.......We are so preoccupied with our worldly affairs—including making money and spending it—that we weaken our ability to perceive what really matters. We have given our souls away in order to reap a material blessing (sordid boon). In our quest for material gain, we do not notice the beauty of the sea or the fury of the winds. Nothing in nature moves us. Well, I would rather be a pagan brought up in an outdated religion. Then I would be inclined to stand in a meadow and appreciate nature around me. I could spot Proteus rising from the sea or listen to Triton blowing his conch shell.
Figures of Speech
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.
Line 1: The world is too much with usMetaphor
Line 4: We have given our hearts awayOxymoron
Line 4: sordid boon. (See number 2 under Notes.)Personification
Line 5: The Sea that bares her bosom to the moonSimile
Lines 6-7: The winds that will be howling at all hours,Study Questions and Writing Topics
1. Write an essay arguing that Wordsworth's theme remains highly relevant today. Be generous with examples of people "getting and spending" while ignoring—or even abusing—nature.