William Wordsworth 

<  The World is too much with us  >
sonnet XXXIII
1807 (37)

Moon over Sea
Full moon over sea, painting by Lockwood de Forest (1906)

  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!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon:
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. - Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

A peculiar sonnet, with surprisingly modern sentiments with regard to consumerism: 'getting and spending'.

The use of 'late and soon' is somehow disturbing. It sort of claims to be as common as 'now and then', or 'early and late', or 'sooner or later' but in fact is so rare in combination that it is enough to find this sonnet on Google. Thus our attention is arrested: that's the first time we have heard those words in that combination. We are tempted to ask, 'what do you mean, late and soon?', and yet the words are so simple, their meaning so obvious, that we feel somewhat foolish in asking. Certainly, the poet is playing with our understanding. Well, that's his job.

The sentiment that the 'world is too much with us' is also a little surprising, lending itself to various interpretations. Perhaps the most straightforward is 'we are too much occupied with the world, ie business, social engagements, other people, commerce'. But the inversion gives the phrase an added twist. The sentiment expressed is not that we are too much with the world, it is the world that is too much with us, which gives the phrase an added depth of meaning, suggesting, for example, that even when we are not in the world, ie engaged in commerce or business or socialising, the world is still there, dominating our thoughts. As we gaze out onto the sea, we are still thinking about that dress we want to buy, or the book we need, or the pair of shorts, or the man who wouldn't sell us that hat, and, in the process, we 'lay waste' our powers, ie we have powers of perception which could be used to see the beauties of nature, but we actively suppress them. 'Lay waste', of course, brings to mind images of nature brutally suppressed by warfare, as though our internal landscape resembles a World War I battlefield after the battle. And it is simply our pre-occupation with buying that hat that effects this devastation of our powers of perception.

The poet goes on to lament the fact that we have lost our connection with Nature, that we have in fact given away our power to perceive in a way that invests nature with our own understanding, that re-affirms our connection to nature, and received in return something infinitely less valuable: 'a sordid boon'.

Of course, it's all very well to state all this as a fact, but where's the proof?

The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

Pull that line apart, and you have your proof.

copyright © Paul Scott, Adnax Publications, all rights reserved