William Wordsworth anticipates the material age

“The World Is Too Much with Us”

William Wordsworth

The World Is Too Much With Us (1806)

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!
The 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 every thing, 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 wreathed horn

Wordsworth’s words and ideas seem ever-fresh to me. We do “lay waste our powers” with too much work, too much spending, too much debt, too much buying, to much chasing after credit cards. I can hardly boast that I am close to nature when I prefer nature through the mediation or poetry, novels, paintings, or other art works. I’d much rather listen to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony than walk through the fields.    This preference for art is a learned taste and one I am trying to remediate by walks

But by and large I’d rather experience “nature” through the eyes and words of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or other poets than experience it for myself. I, too, am out of tune.  True confession.

Wordsworth would rather be a “pagan” than be out of touch with nature. I wonder what he saw as preferable to paganism?   At least he sees paganism as better than materialism.

Sometimes I like to paraphrase poems–the results are always terrible but this exercise (best done privately) helps me to clarify what I think the poem is about and what kinds of aesthetic merits are deeply lost when I translate poetry into prosaic English.
Paraphrase:  The need for material goods seems more and more urgent and I’d rather go shopping than go on a walk. I’d rather work to earn money so that I can buy something….maybe a Hermes scarf or a Mont Blanc pen. True, I don’t have time for nature and I don’t look at the moon because I can’t stop watching reality tv. I’d rather see Taylor Swift  than the ocean or the flowers. But really, I’m not totally happy about this and I’d just as soon get back in touch with the days of Woodrow Wilson or Herbert Hoover if it meant that I could appreciate natural beauty again.

See how much is lost? Not that I ever thought of Herbert Hoover as being Protean….wordsworthstrangefits

Wordsworth, brooding.

Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

4 thoughts on “William Wordsworth anticipates the material age”

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, the poem is always fresh. It anticipates Madonna and Walmart and reminds us to get out side and away from those big-walled stores and malls. Thank you again!


  1. Thank you for sharing this poem and your paraphrasing. It’s so easy to get bogged down in a round of activities that keeps me glued to screens instead of experience the natural beauty around me. I’m often guilty as charged. This poem is a great reminder to get outside and look around.


  2. Thank you, Ms. Arachne. While I am proud that I’ve never been inside a Wal Mart, I know I spend too much time in front of screens and away from the fascinating gardens, parks, fields that are practically outside my front door. Thank you again.


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