The World Is Too Much with Us

by William Wordsworth

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What romantic traits do we find in Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much With Us"?

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Romanticism as an artistic and literary movement began in the late eighteenth century and continued until the mid-nineteenth century. The beginning of the Romantic Movement in England is said to be the publication in 1798 of the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Romanticism offered a rebellion against rationalism and emphasized emotion, imagination, individualism, spontaneity, and an appreciation for natural beauty.

In the poem "The World Is Too Much with Us," we find rejection of the rational, ordered, and materialistic contemporary society, with its emphasis on the importance of finances. Instead, Wordsworth emphasizes the romantic trait of appreciation of the beauties and wonders of nature. He displays romantic individualism in his declaration that he would rather be pagan than lose his attachment to the glories of nature.

By "the world," Wordsworth means the material, financial world of "getting and spending." He emphasizes that this causes us to "lay waste our powers" as humans because "we have given our hearts away." He calls this a "sordid boon." A boon is a benefit or blessing, but when it is sordid, it has become vile, filthy, wretched, and squalid.

Wordsworth then gives examples of the wonders of nature, such as the moon shining on the sea and howling winds. As mentioned above, appreciation of nature is a romantic trait. He says that people are no longer moved by these things, and this makes them out of tune. For this reason, he prefers to be a pagan, so that he can reconnect with the primal thrill of nature and lose the "forlorn" feeling that contemporary society, with its emphasis on money and material things, imparts.

To emphasize his point, Wordsworth mentions two ancient pagan gods. In Greek mythology, Proteus was a sea god who was ever-changing and had the ability to give prophecies. Triton was another sea god, with a shape like a merman; he had a conch shell that he would blow like a horn.

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Romanticism exalted a simple life lived close to nature. Through nature, Romantics like Wordsworth believed, one found God's creative and life-giving presence made manifest in the world. Nature was pure; civilization was tainted and corrupt. Nature elevated the soul. Further, the Romantics pushed back against the increasingly rational and utilitarian world with which they were confronted, hoping to touch people's emotions and sense of wonder at the mysteries and miracles of existence.

We can see all of these elements at play in this sonnet. Wordsworth contrasts "the world"—by which he means what the French called "le monde," or the civilized world—to a state of nature. The poem laments that "the world [civilization] is too much with us," for

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours
In other words, we spend too much time earning money and spending it. In so doing, we waste our gifts. We no longer identify with nature. This makes us "out of tune" with God's creative force, because we have lost our connection with the earth. Its beauties no longer move us.
Wordsworth contrasts this to the ancient Greeks, who had a strong sense of wonder and deep connection to the natural world. He wishes he could leave his corrupt civilization and see creation through the eyes of an ancient pagan. His emotion comes through in the exclamatory "Great God!" He uses vivid imagery to describe the mystery and magic of this lost world in which nature was populated by gods. At the end, he is comforted as he imagines two figures from Greek mythology:
Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear[ing] old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
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Perhaps the key tenet of Romanticism is the idea of the sublime, and how this can be manifested through the power of nature. Romanticism is also strongly concerned with individualism and with inspiration being received from nature, or the muse stimulated by what is sublime.

This short poem by Wordsworth is interesting in that it utilizes a lot of these Romantic concepts but approaches them in an unusual way. Rather than feeling inspired by nature, here, "it moves us not," with the speaker feeling "out of tune" with the forces of nature. We do see the personification of Nature, a common Romantic trait, in "the Sea that bares her bosom to the moon," and the winds "howling," but the speaker does not feel the usual sense of inspiration from this.

The speaker is "forlorn" in the face of his inability to react to the stimulus. His feelings are intimately connected to the behavior of the natural world around him, a deeply Romantic idea. We also find, in the last two lines of the poem, Classical allusions, with "Proteus" and "Triton" imagined as possible enhancements to the natural landscape; the speaker feels that these Classical gods might help him find his inspiration. Classical allusions are commonly found in Romanticism, as the Romantics believed the Classical world to be the fount of all western culture: to take inspiration from them is to reach towards greatness. We can find Classical allusions, or "Romantic Hellenism," in the works of poets such as Keats, Shelley, and Byron ("A Greek Urn," "Prometheus Unbound," and many others).

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There are multiple examples of romantic traits in Wordsworth's poem "The World is Too Much With Us." To being, one needs to understand the definitions of both romantic and traits.

Romantic is when something is marked by feelings of affection and/or love. A trait is a quality of something. Therefore, romantic traits refer to the quality of something being marked by feelings of love or affection.

In regards to Wordsworth's poem, an example of romantic traits (as based upon the above definition) is as follows:

"We have given our hearts away"-- Normally, one gives their heart away to another when they are moved by the person and have feelings of love or affection for them.

Another definition of romantic can encompass the natural world. Many romantic poets used imagery of natural elements to define mood and or the message behind their poetry. This poem is no different. There are multiple references to nature in the poem; each which qualifies as a romantic trait:

1. "Little we see in Nature."

2. "The sea that bares her bosom to the moon."

3. "The winds will be howling."

4. "Sleeping flowers."

5. "Rising from the sea."

Each of the above mentioned refer to different elements of Romantic traits as depicted through nature.

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