The World Is Too Much with Us by William Wordsworth

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This sonnet comprises an apt summary of many of the themes Wordsworth pursued throughout his tumultuous career. Primarily, “The World Is Too Much with Us” is a poem about vision, about lines of sight, about the debris of history that prevents the observer from seeing through to the real meaning and purpose of human life.

Throughout the first eight lines of the sonnet, two competing worldviews are silently compared before the poet explicitly declares in line 9 his allegiance to a modified paganism that preserves nature’s autonomy and authority apart from human control or divine manipulation. In short, the poet seeks to divorce Christian vice from pagan virtue and form a hybrid ethic that permits the soul to return to its spiritual moorings.

The poet’s intellectual vista envisions a decadent West poised on utter industrialization and eventually ruin. The incipient “environmentalism” found in the sonnet undergirds most of Wordsworth’s other works, especially his long narrative poem, The Prelude (published posthumously in 1850), and his verse drama, The Borderers (1842). Nature is conceptualized as a willing teacher, a personified, secularized “Holy Spirit,” who will “guide us into all truth.”

The “world” that is “too much with us” is the world as stylized, fixed, unmalleable—the world of a sovereign deity who has placed humankind in a cosmos of his and not their making. Echoed here, then, is the poet’s rebellion against this fixedness. The sonnet is thus a call to arms, a rallying cry to cease “getting and spending” with the coinage of heaven and to turn to a “creed outworn” for sustenance and guidance.

In this, the sonnet reflects the poet’s quite explicit preoccupation with expressing the nature and consequences of self-consciousness for an appreciation of nature’s role in forming the human spirit. In commenting upon his poetics, Wordsworth offered that “the study of human nature suggests this awful truth, that, as in the trials to which life subjects us, sin and crime are apt to start from their very opposite qualities.” In other words, whatever merits...

(The entire section is 522 words.)