Thursday, January 11, 2018

"The World is Too Much with Us" (1807)



Here is "The World is Too Much with Us" (1807) by William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

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 wreath├Ęd horn.


And here is my personal postscript:

This Italian sonnet -- with its highly structured meter (iambic pentameter) and rhyme scheme (abba/abba/cdcdcd), somewhat formal diction, classical allusions, and wistful tone -- has long been one of my favorite poems. And in my present circumstances in life, I find special contemporary relevance in Wordsworth's attitude toward the decadence and wastefulness of his era. Moreover, as I now live (at least for a while longer) a stone's throw from the Gulf of Mexico, I read Wordsworth's poem as a reminder that a solitary walk on the beach might be just what I need right now. Perhaps Proteus -- Poseidon's son -- will rise from the surf, change shape, and tell me something about the future. Perhaps Triton -- another of Poseidon's sons -- will summon and entertain me by blowing upon his conch shell. In any case, I ought to wander on the shore and see in Nature a few things that just might make me less forlorn.

Moreover, reading this poem this morning, I remember using it often in syllabi during my 15 years as an adjunct teacher of literature and composition. Then, letting my mind wander, I wonder how I as a feckless fellow from a western Pennsylvania coal-mining town went from gas company ditch digger (as an 18-year old in the early 1960s) to college teacher (as a 54 year old near the end of the 20th century). The many career paths taken in that journey now boggle my mind. Perhaps I will have more to say about that pilgrimage and my multiple careers in upcoming postings.

However, all of this leads me to ask you a couple of questions:

(1) Am I misreading Wordsworth's tone in this poem?
(2) What poets and poems do you turn to when you need to be made "less forlorn"? 






14 comments:

  1. Wordsworth's sonnet could have been written yesterday. Things are hardly better today. As for poems to make one less forlorn, Wallace Stevens usually does it for me, and Eliot's Four Quartets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm. When I think of Stevens and Eliot, I don't usually think of restorative optimism. My reading has been inadequate and inattentive. I shall have to try Steven and Eliot again someday soon.

      Delete
  2. What a timely poem, Tim. And a good reminder (at least for me) of the healing powers of time spent in nature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, the link between Romanticism and Nature continues to command my interest. In fact, I’ve just found an old book on my shelves that focuses on the Romantic movement in American literature. I see a new direction and focus unfolding in front of me. Hmmm.

      Delete
  3. what was the question?... pretty forgetful today... oh... i greatly admire WW's poetry, especially the earlier works... he hits the nail on the head with this one... as a geologist, i tend to look at humans and their very brief history as a temporary disruption of geologic processes, a sort of scrapings or slime on top of reality, which is the natural world developing through the action of evolution... therefore, naturalism, yes... and, John Muir, Thoreau, Burroughs, and their friends for that, and Pogo, Nash, and the others mentioned on my blog for cheering up... interesting ideas... tx...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mudpuddle, as I have noted to Margot, American Romanticism is calling me, and I hope to visit with Thoreau (and his circle); I think Thoreau would agree with Wordsworth and you about our world.

      Delete
  4. R.T., we've lost touch with our roots. We no longer live in the real world but a virtual world which is cold, sterile, and dead.

    Good reading.

    I find that haiku bring me back to the natural world. In addition, browsing through Frost also helps. Can't think of any others right now.

    My usual "cure" is music or a favorite novel, though, not poetry so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fred, yes, prose fiction can become a great escape from the slings and arrows of our lives. No one reads poetry to escape, do they?

      Delete
    2. R.T., I can't speak for anyone else. I bet there are those who do.

      Delete
  5. Hi R.T. I can tell that Wordsworth is upset about something but he doesn't explicitly refer to it, does he? Or maybe I'm imperceptive. I don't think he wants to return to the old Pagans, however. Not if Robert Graves' translation of Greek Myths and Sagas are accurate. They were a pretty raunchy and merciless bunch.

    You do need to walk on the beach. It is impossible not to feel peace when listening to the tide and surrounded by the blue and sand. Take care! Hope you have a nice walk!

    As far as my favorite poets...I'm trying to think...I like Blake, Eliot, Both Brownings...I don't know...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just thought of poetry I love. Mostly because Ralph Vaughn Williams put it to music: Everything by Robert Louis Stevenson.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sharon, thanks. There is something special about the beach, isn’t there? However, out at sea is not calming but somewhat terrifying for me. I wonder about my different reactions.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Less forlorn? How about some Richard Wilbur, for a start?
    A poet who experienced many things but often reached for joy, that unfashionable quality...

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/12/to-imagine-excellence

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Marly. Joy to the world!

      Delete