The World Is Too Much with Us

by William Wordsworth
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Which literary techniques from the Romantic period are used to reflect the theme of the oppressed common man in the poem "The World is Too Much with Us"?

Wordsworth uses a collective subject, a remorseful tone, and abundant nature imagery to convey Romantic themes including common people’s oppression. The speaker includes the reader in the message about their loss to materialistic forces. In contrast, they present the glories of nature, which could provide an antidote but have been neglected.

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In this sonnet, William Wordsworth uses a speaker who speaks in first-person plural, generally referring to themselves as “we.” In this way, the poet aims to blur or eliminate the division between speaker and reader, making it seem that the message the speaker presents is on behalf of others—perhaps all of humanity. This speaker posits a sad state of affairs but also assumes some responsibility for these problems having occurred. The second part of the poem shifts to first-person singular as the “forlorn” speaker expresses their wishes for a possible alternative to the materialism that has damaged them.

As the sonnet begins, the speaker expresses their regret over the losses that “we” have suffered. This mournful tone is often employed in Romantic poetry, which sometimes draws a clear distinction between an idyllic or Edenic past and the fallen, humdrum world of contemporary times. This “world” or secular life does not leave the “us” of the poem time for the spiritual concerns that really matter. The speaker laments the time and energy that people must expend in ordinary tasks of “getting,” meaning working, and “spending.” Money, therefore, is too great of a concern for modern people, yielding a “sordid boon.” These mundane concerns are wasteful as they steer us away from important matters and sap our energy.

The Romantic idea of Nature as sustenance and antidote is clearly present in the poem. Wordsworth’s speaker laments their division from Nature, which “we” do not consider to be ours. The poet employs vivid imagery to remind the reader of the beauty and value of the natural world. He uses personification for the sea, making her a naked female before the moon. Other natural phenomena that we ignore include the howling winds; he uses a simile in saying they are “like sleeping flowers” because we do not hear them. The speaker implies that powerful, pagan gods might be needed to reawaken reverence for nature.

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