The World Is Too Much With Us
A Poem by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Composition and Publication
Point of View
Text With Notes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2007
Type of Work

.......William Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us" is a lyric poem in the form of a sonnet. In English, there are two types of sonnets, the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean, both with fourteen lines. Wordsworth's poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, developed by the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), a Roman Catholic priest. 
.......A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an eight-line stanza (octave) and a six-line stanza (sestet). The first stanza presents a theme or problem, and the second stanza develops the theme or suggests a solution to the problem. The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is as follows: 

First stanza (octave): abba, abba 
Second stanza (sestet): cde, cde or another combination such as cdc, cdc. In the case of Wordsworth's poem, the combination is cd, cd. cd.
Composition and Publication

.......William Wordsworth is believed to have composed the poem in 1802, when the Industrial Revolution was in full flower. No doubt the materialism the revolution engendered was one of the reasons Wordsworth wrote the poem. He published it in 1807 as part of a collection, Poems in Two Volumes


.......Society is so bent on making and spending money in smoky factories and fast-paced business enterprises that it ignores the pristine glory of nature, which is a reflection of the divine. This is a universal theme that remains relevant in today's world.


.......The tone is angry, modulated with sarcasm and seeming vengefulness. First, the poet scolds society for devoting all its energies to material enterprises and pleasures. While pampering their bodies, he says, people are starving their souls. He next announces sarcastically that he would rather be a pagan; at least then he could appreciate nature through different eyes and even see Proteus rising from the sea—perhaps to wreak vengeance on complacent humankind. 

Point of View

.......Wordsworth presents the poem in first-person plural in the first eight lines and part of the ninth, using we, ours, and us. At the end of the ninth line, he switches to first-person singular, using I. Use of first-person plural enables Wordsworth to chastise the world without seeming preachy or sanctimonious, for he is including himself in his reprimand. 


.......Wordsworth wrote most of the lines in the poem in iambic pentameter, in which a line has five pairs of syllables. Each pair consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Lines 5 and 6 demonstrate this pattern.

The SEA..|..that BARES..|..her BO..|..som TO..|..the MOON,

The WINDS..|..that WILL..|..be HOWL..|..ing AT..|..all HOURS

.......Wordsworth veers from this pattern in lines 2 and 3, in which he stresses the first syllable of each line.

Summary of the Poem

.......We are so preoccupied with our worldly affairs—including making money and spending it—that we weaken our ability to perceive what  really matters. We have given our souls away in order to reap a material blessing (sordid boon). In our quest for material gain, we do not notice the beauty of the sea or the fury of the winds. Nothing in nature moves us. Well, I would rather be a pagan brought up in an outdated religion. Then I would be inclined to stand in a meadow and appreciate nature around me. I could spot Proteus rising from the sea or listen to Triton blowing his conch shell.


The World Is Too Much With Us
By William Wordsworth
Text, Summary, and Notes

1......The world is too much with us; late and soon,1
2......Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
3......Little we see in nature that is ours;
4......We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!2
5......The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
6......The winds that will be howling at all hours,
7......And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
8......For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
9......It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
10....A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;3
11....So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
12....Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
13....Have sight of Proteus4 rising from the sea;
14....Or hear old Triton5 blow his wreathéd horn. 


1...late and soon: Our fixation on materialism has been a problem in the past and will continue to be a problem in the future.
2...sordid boon: shameful gain; tarnished blessing. This phrase is an oxymoron, a form of paradox that juxtaposes contradictory words.
3...suckled . . . outworn: Brought up in an outdated religion.
4...Proteus: In Greek mythology, a sea god who could change shape at will and who possessed complete knowledge of the past, present, and future. 
5...Triton: In Greek mythology, a sea god who had the body of a man and the tail of a fish. He used a conch—the spiral shell of a mollusk—as a trumpet.

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.


Line 1: The world is too much with us
Line 2: we lay waste our powers
Line 4: We have given our hearts away
Line 5: bares her bosom 
Line 6: The winds that will be howling
Line 4: We have given our hearts away
Comparison of hearts to attention or concern or to enthusiasm or life

Line 10: suckled in a creed outworn 
Comparison of creed to a mother nursing her child

Line 4: sordid boon. (See number 2 under Notes.)
Line 5: The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon
Comparison of the sea to a woman and of the moon to a person who sees the woman
Lines 6-7: The winds that will be howling at all hours,
................And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers
................Comparison of the winds to flowers
Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Write an essay arguing that Wordsworth's theme remains highly relevant today. Be generous with examples of people "getting and spending" while ignoring—or even abusing—nature. 
2. What is a pagan? Read a short biography of Wordsworth, then decide whether he was serious when he wrote that he would rather be a pagan.
3. Protean is an English word derived from the name of the Greek god Proteus (line 13). In an authoritative dictionary, look up protean if you do.not know the meaning. Then write a paragraph about a person who has a protean personality. 
4. What is the meaning of wreathéd in the last line of the poem. Hint: Read the definition of Triton under Notes, above, then look up the word wreathed in an authoritative dictionary.