What is the universal theme of "The World Is Too Much With Us"?  

1 Answer | Add Yours

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The universal theme of the poem ought to be obvious, since Wordsworth is speaking for most of us. It is not about love of nature but about the love of material things that infects us all. We become so preoccupied with consumerism that we forget about the beauty around us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher who once had the pleasure of meeting Wordsworth in person on his trip to England, wrote: "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." This was way back at the beginning of the nineteenth century when consumerism could hardly have been running rampant, as it is today, because there weren't so many things to consume. That was fortunate because it was a whole lot harder to earn money.

Wordsworth may have become a nature poet by necessity. It was much cheaper living in the country than in the city, and a man who earned his living by writing could live almost anywhere. According to the eNotes Study Guide (see reference link below), Wordsworth wrote his sonnet "The World Is Too Much With Us" in 1807. He was the sole support of his sister Dorothy and got married to a childhood sweetheart named Mary, thus becoming responsible for the support of three adults including himself. Then he and Mary began having children, as married couples will, and had a child in 1803, another in 1804, and another in 1806.

So Wordsworth, who was trying to make a living writing poetry, had a small cottage housing three adults and three babies, two of whom were suffering from whooping cough at about the time he began to feel that the world is too much with us. It is also well known that he fathered a daughter out of wedlock while he was in France in his youth and that he felt obliged to send the French mother child-support payments until that daughter had grown up.

Characteristically, Wordsworth did not say that the world was too much with him but that it was too much with all of us. Which it is. Wordsworth was a sententious poet. If he hadn't lost his religious faith, he might have become a minister and preached sermons.

He was noted for his practice of taking long walks and composing his poetry in his head. (A servant told a visitor, "His study is out of doors.) He must have needed to get away from a cottage where he couldn't have even had a room to himself--and where at least two of his children had whooping cough!

In his sonnet he is all alone on a promontory overlooking the ocean. It must have been a relief to get away from that cottage and all those dependents who would naturally keep reminding him of his financial obligations. His was the problem that faces most people who aspire to be artists: They have to pay the rent and buy food and clothing; and if they get married they have to provide for their children. It is easy enough for a single person to live simply and devote himself or herself to artistic endeavors, but it is a lonely life and leads many of them to get married, as it did William Wordsworth.

In composing his sonnet, Wordsworth was revealing his growing realization that not just he himself was afflicted with real-life problems involving "getting and spending" but that these problems were common to nearly everybody. He doesn't offer any solution--only a wish (which perhaps we have all had) that he could live like a pagan (or perhaps like Robinson Crusoe).

 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,929 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question