Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
- The poem opens with a complaint, saying that the world is out of whack and that people are destroying themselves with consumerism ("getting and spending").
- "The world is too much with us" sounds odd, and could mean several things. It could mean that the world – life in the city, contemporary society – is just too much, as in "This is too much for me, and I can't take it anymore."
- The "world" might refer to the natural world instead of the city, in which case it would mean that humanity is so busy that they don't have time for the natural world because "it's too much."
- It could also mean mankind or society is a burden on the world, as in "there's not enough space for both man and the earth" or "mankind has upset a delicate balance."
- "Late and soon" is a strange phrase. It could mean "sooner or later," or it could mean we've done this recently or in the past ("late") and will do it in the future as well ("soon").
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
- The poem's tone of complaint continues as the speaker describes a rift between nature and humanity.
- We get a potential clue as to the identity of at least one of those "powers" described in line 2: the ability to feel, which we've lost because we've given our hearts away.
- The phrase "little we see in Nature that is ours" is tricky, and can mean several, related things. We've become so absorbed in consumerism – in another world – that we no longer seem a part of nature.
- Alternatively, "Nature" can't be "got" or "spent" – because it is isn't a commodity that is manufactured – so it doesn't seem like it has anything to offer us.
- A "boon" is a reward, a benefit, or something for which to be thankful. "Sordid" means "base" or "vile." The speaker is being sarcastic here, almost as if he were saying "wow it's so great that we've handed over our hearts…not!"
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;
- The poet elaborates on man's alienation from nature, claiming that humanity is no longer susceptible to the influence of the "Sea," the "winds," and basically everything else in nature.
- "Tune" is interesting. It can mean "out of tune," in the sense that we're out of touch with nature, but it also suggests something like "attuned."
- The sea isn't literally taking her shirt off here; the speaker is elegantly describing the ways in which ocean-tides are affected by the moon, or just how the sea appears to him in its relationship with the moon.
- The speaker describes the winds at rest; they are "sleeping flowers" that will howl when they wake up. Wait a minute, flowers? Howling? Weird.
- "For" is more complicated than it looks. It can mean both that we're not in the right tune "for" the natural world, in the right frame of mind to "get it."
- It could also mean "because," as in "because of these things we're out of tune." The plot thickens…