Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
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.
Petrarchan sonnet consists of an eight-line stanza (octave) and a six-line
stanza (sestet). The first stanza presents a theme or problem, and the
second stanza develops the theme or suggests a solution to the problem.
The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is as follows:
stanza (octave): abba, abba
stanza (sestet): cde, cde or another combination such as cdc, cdc.
In the case of Wordsworth's poem, the combination is cd, cd. cd.
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.
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.
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 seaperhaps to wreak vengeance on
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.
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.
veers from this pattern in lines 2 and 3, in which he stresses the first
syllable of each line.
of the Poem
are so preoccupied with our worldly affairsincluding making money and
spending itthat 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
The World Is Too
Much With Us
By William Wordsworth
Text, Summary, and Notes
world is too much with us; late
and spending, we lay waste our powers;
we see in nature that is ours;
have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!2
Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
winds that will be howling at all hours,
are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
this, for everything, we are out of tune;
moves us not.Great God! I'd rather be
pagan suckled in a creed outworn;3
might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
sight of Proteus4
rising from the sea;
hear old Triton5
blow his wreathéd horn.
and soon: Our fixation on materialism has been a problem in the past
and will continue to be a problem in the future.
boon: shameful gain; tarnished blessing. This phrase is an oxymoron,
a form of paradox that juxtaposes contradictory words.
. . . outworn: Brought up in an outdated religion.
In Greek mythology, a sea god who could change shape at will and who possessed
complete knowledge of the past, present, and future.
In Greek mythology, a sea god who had the body of a man and the tail of
a fish. He used a conchthe spiral shell of a molluskas a trumpet.
are examples of figures of speech in the poem.
1: The world
is too much with
2: we lay waste
Line 4: We
given our hearts away
Line 5: bares
Line 6: The
Line 4: We have
given our hearts away
Comparison of hearts
to attention or concern or to enthusiasm or life
Line 10: suckled in a creed
Comparison of creed
to a mother nursing her child
Line 4: sordid boon.
number 2 under Notes.)Personification
Line 5: The Sea
that bares her bosom to the moon
Comparison of the sea
to a woman and of the moon to a person who sees the woman
Lines 6-7: The winds
that will be howling at all hours,
Questions and Writing Topics
are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers
of the winds to flowers
1. Write an essay arguing
that Wordsworth's theme remains highly relevant today. Be generous with
examples of people "getting and spending" while ignoringor even abusingnature.
2. What is a pagan? Read
a short biography of Wordsworth, then decide whether he was serious when
he wrote that he would rather be a pagan.
3. Protean is an
English word derived from the name of the Greek god Proteus (line 13).
In an authoritative dictionary, look up protean if you do.not
know the meaning. Then write a paragraph about a person who has a protean
4. What is the meaning of
in the last line of the poem. Hint: Read the definition of Triton
under Notes, above, then look up the word wreathed
in an authoritative dictionary.