The World Is Too Much With Us

The World Is Too Much With Us

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The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth

In the churchyard of Grassmere’s Saint Oswald’s Church, lies a simple tombstone laid in reverence to William Wordsworth; now one of the most visited literary shrines in the world. “The World is Too Much With Us” is one of many excellent poems written by William Wordsworth during the early 1800’s. The poem’s theme revolves directly upon the material inclination of the world, and the tragic result of human kind losing sight of all things truly meaningful. When reading such texts based upon such controversial (and at that time) revolutionary ideals, especially when expressed in such remorse and disgust; one can begin to wonder on what authority the poet stands to address all humankind in such manner, diminishing practically all but himself. What right does he have, and what value should we place on his opinion? Oxford Dictionary defines the term ‘value’ as: ‘how useful or important something is’. Today renowned as a great poet, William Wordsworth biographically experienced more than his fair share of lows; including orphaned by the age of 13. Culturally he was exposed to one of the largest spread of Christianity & bore witness to the Industrial revolution. Considering the circumstances the poet has experienced gives more understanding to what influenced such ideals & writings. It seems all William Wordsworth had gained and more so lost; allowed him to see life in more perspective than what others did, resulting in essence a more prioritised life; these priorities of the correct manner. Reading poems with a context of biographical & cultural knowledge adds value to our view of the poet (Wordsworth), to their poems & to the ideals they represent in them.

William Wordsworth was born on the 7th April 1770 in a fine Georgian house in Cockermouth. In essence Wordsworth’s life began in the midst of luxury and riches. All was soon taken away when he lost his mother at the age of eight, and later on losing his father at the age of thirteen. Having no-one to attend to him he attended the Hawkshead Grammar school and lodged with whoever would take him in at varied times. Biographically, though Wordsworth may not clearly remember all, there would definitely have been a comparison of his rich life with that of his new ‘poor’ one. Wordsworth to an extent would have been able to see what was gained, and as well as what was lost in both types of life.

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What the poor had that the rich took for granted & what the rich wanted that the poor possessed. It seems at an early age he learnt that in the blink of an eye; ‘all’ could be taken away, leaving him to dwell on what really mattered in life and therefore forming priorities which were meaningful. All this would have been directly influenced in his writing of “The World is Too Much With Us”. Wordsworth understood what is meaningful in life and expressed his anger in the poem when noticing that that ‘meaning’ was being lost: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”.

“The World is Too Much With Us”, is a poem expressed with a tone of remorse and anger towards the world’s state of material inclination. From 1813 William Wordsworth began working as a stamp collector; although he made understood that poetry would be the only thing he wanted to do; understandably taking the job from a finance perspective as poetry was not bringing enough money at the time. Again Wordsworth experienced an influence to how materialistic the world had become as to rid people of their free will, forcing them (as himself) to do things they did not want to do; results of the world’s pursuit of money. Throughout Wordsworth’s life money was always lacking, reflected by his living standards and social opportunities. Understandably Wordsworth becomes angry at the human race’s materialistic surge; but becomes remorseful more so that the whole ideal is pushed to the rest of human kind. It almost seems to make a comment about human kind’s indifference and selfishness, and Wordsworth intelligently expresses it in the poem with the use of metaphors and similes: “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”. Even when the sea gathers and the wind howls, humanity just looks into the spectacle of the storm uncaringly.

William Wordsworth died at the age of 81 from the effects of a common cold, in the similar manner his two youngest children had taken rest in. The cause of his death reflected the level of medicine at the time, also reflecting that life expectancy would have generally been lower than present times. Wordsworth understood how short life really was that it seemed relatively unnecessary to be chasing the material inclining of the world; so instead through all his experiences both culturally and biographically, learned to prioritise the more meaningful things of life. He makes the statement in his poem: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” He reflects that our gifts, time and love we make of nothing (waste) in the chase of getting and spending (material chase). Life was too short to waste anything.

The Industrial Revolution was a period from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. It was a time in the world’s history when major changes in agriculture, manufacture and transportation came about all resulting in major effects on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions in Britain. William Wordsworth was one of the renowned poets who witnessed the Industrial Revolution, the historic boom that affected every aspect of human life. Society at that time seemed to solely comprise of people catching up to other’s advancement, soon losing perspective of life as “The World is Too Much With Us” expresses. It was during this time that the world became its most fast paced and money driven. The material world forced the rush of money & the division between socioeconomic groups became emphasised. With the increase in technology people lost jobs and unemployment rose, but this was out weighed for in essence as the poor became poorer, the rich became richer. Undoubtedly Wordsworth came to express the same anger, remorse and misery revealed in his poem; to the extent of reaching an impossible personal solution, that he would rather be a pagan as to see ancient Gods rising from the sea as to give some sense of meaning; this an immense insult to a Christian prominent society at that time. – “Great God! I’d rather be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn:/ Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn”.

Readers notice that William Wordsworth shared a connection with nature throughout all his poems. He does not treat nature as a commodity, this reflected with capital letters on referral being a use of personification. Why was it that Wordsworth felt the need to treat nature with such importance, giving it value that seemed so undeserved? During hard times in 1779-1789 in Hawkshead, William made many trips to the country side where he was influenced by nature. It was during this time where he received much recognition for his poetry initially. Wordsworth as a poet thrived under nature’s influence; so in essence his livelihood and income derived from it. Oxford Dictionary defines also defines value as: “the amount of money or goods something provides”; and for Wordsworth nature literally did have much value for him.

There is no doubt that “The World is Too Much With Us” is a very well written poem; completely enhanced with an understanding of circumstances and ideals the poet has been grounded with, leading to the writing of it. Wordsworth communicates his theme with the deserved intelligence and backs it up with accurate structuring, indirect imagery & striking language. Combining so many literary techniques to express the frustration, misery, disgrace & remorse Wordsworth felt; made the poem seem very persuasive and with its intellect made the reader feel foolish to disagree. Wordsworth has successfully communicated his idea, the theme being received in all senses complete. Such deep and revolutionary issues as represented in the poem often arise questions as to how one human mind can think so far. How one mind can break away from the trend of others, reflect and dare to object. The answer is as with any other great thing, it has to be acquired or grown. The poem itself is simply as a flower, but to see the gardener’s labour, the journey from seed to plant; enhances more so than the final product. Knowledge of the poet’s cultural and biographical context enhances a poem; providing it with value that nothing else can present it with.
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