The World Is Too Much with Us

by William Wordsworth

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What does the phrase "The world is too much with us" mean in Wordsworth's poem?

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The meaning of the opening phrase "The world is too much with us" by William Wordsworth reflects the human dependence on consumerism and materialistic efforts. The speaker is dismayed that mankind's power is wasted in such efforts and thus takes little notice of the more beautiful aspects of the natural world.

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When Wordsworth says that "The world is too much with us," he is setting "the world" in opposition to to other sources of value, which he regards as more meaningful. Although Wordsworth's religious views were unusual, he had a sufficiently Christian attitude to see "the world" as a contrast to the church, the soul, philosophy, the contemplative life, and spiritual values in general, as well as a peaceful appreciation of nature. This is why he refers to "Getting and spending" in the following line. The acquisition of money and property is the chief preoccupation of "the world." The second line, therefore, is an explanation of the first. The chief reason that we are harmed by the world being too much with us is that we waste our time (and our powers) grasping at material things.

Worldliness sets us "out of tune" with the physical world, which is also a world of things. These, however, are things we cannot buy, but must learn to appreciate and enjoy. Wordsworth's reference to "A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn" suggests that we once had this ability to live in harmony with the earth, but we have lost it in the quest for money and status. We have lost the world through worldliness, and the only way to get it back again is to return to the simple joy in nature that our acquisitiveness has led us to forget.

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That opening line has been interpreted several ways, but I think the meaning hinges on the context of the second line.

"The world is too much with us" means that we humans have become much too absorbed in the materialistic workings of our societies. "The world" stands in opposition to the idea of "Nature" (interestingly capitalized in this poem where world is not, showing the greater importance of the natural world). Mankind has power but wastes it in getting and spending, or earning money just for the sake of purchasing powera cycle mankind is willing to repeat over and over again at the expense of more worthy efforts such as noticing the sea, the wind, and flowers. Because of humanity's focus on consumerism, we "have given our hearts away" and simply don't have the emotional reserve left to appreciate the most beautiful parts of life. The natural world which surrounds us "moves us not" because we are so focused on acquiring more, spending more, and earning more.

This line reflects a deep characteristic of Romantic poetry, and Wordsworth is considered one of the most significant Romantic poets. Poetry of this period is characterized by an appreciation of nature and a protest against the cold, impersonal world of industrialization that was spreading during this era. In this opening line, the speaker echoes these same sentiments: We humans need to separate ourselves from the fast-paced cycle of consumerism.

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The opening line of the poem states that "the world is too much with us." It is followed by the line "getting and spending we lay waste our powers." The second line helps illuminate the first. By "world," Wordsworth means not the entire world, but what the French call "le monde": society, the social world, and the hectic world of business and commerce. That world, the opening line is saying, consumes too much of our time and energy.

Because of our focus on the fast-paced, materialistic world, we lose touch with nature, the poem says. We have "given our hearts" away to commerce. This tendency to live in the world's whirl also impacts our imagination. Not only do we fail to notice nature, we also don't see the spirituality inherent in nature. Therefore, the speaker says, he'd rather be a pagan Greek, imagining gods like Proteus and Triton rising out of the sea, than be caught in the sordid world of getting money and spending it.

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"The world is too much with us" can be interpreted as meaning that people have become too concerned with worldly, material things and are now unconcerned with the natural world.

The renowned social psychologist and humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm wrote in 1955,

We live in a world of things, and our only connection with them is that we know how to manipulate or to consume them.

Fromm's words echo the meaning of the first line of Wordsworth, a Romantic poet who stressed the importance of emotion and connection to Nature. In fact, Romanticism meant a return to nature and an escape from the contamination of modern civilization. Like other Romantics, Wordsworth was concerned that people were becoming materialistic during his time. Industrialization was occurring, thus causing people to "give their hearts away." In this poem, then, since their only connection to life is through consumption of the "world of things," people have become "out of tune" with the beauty of the natural world that even the "Pagan suckled in a creed outworn" knew how to appreciate.

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