Study Guide

The World is too Much with Us Technology and Modernization

By William Wordsworth

Technology and Modernization

The World is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers (1-2)

The speaker describes the harmful effects of a consumer society with words that involve some kind of measurement, such as "Late and soon," "getting and spending," and "too much." This kind of language reminds us of the kinds of accounting and measuring we associate with an industrialized, consumer society, and implies that even the speaker isn't immune to the effects of the consumerism he criticizes.

Little we see in Nature that is ours (3)

The consumer culture of modernity has taught us to see things as commodities, as things we can potentially "get" or acquire. The passage suggests that perhaps we see nothing in nature that is ours because we're looking at it the wrong way; we're looking at it as a possession rather than a part of our humanity.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! (4)

The speaker associates modernity with the loss of our ability to feel; in exchange for all the new markets and shops where we can "get and spend," we have handed over our "hearts," that universal symbol for the feelings. We've traded sensibility for objects.

For this, for everything, we are out of tune; (8)

Humanity is "out of tune" with nature partly as a result of consumerism; the speaker characterizes modernity as a period of dissonance, a period in which humanity and nature make a discordant sound rather than a harmonious one. If modernity is out of tune, then the lines imply that being "in tune" is a characteristic of pre-modern society.

Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn (9-10)

From the speaker's vantage point, paganism is a thing of the past; the speaker says he would rather be a pagan, which implies that the pre-modern world is better than the modern world, that the society of the ancient pagan is less depressing than that of the "Great God" of Christian modernity.

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; (11-12)

The poet tells us he's "forlorn" (i.e., sad, depressed, etc.). He implies that the present state of things – modernity – is inherently depressing; if he were a "Pagan suckled in a creed outworn" (9), he would feel "less forlorn." If he would only be "less forlorn," rather than "totally ecstatic," perhaps the past isn't that much better than the present. Maybe it's all in his head.