1807
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Miscellaneous Sonnets 18. ["The world is too much with us; late and soon."]

Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth, Author of the Lyrical Ballads.

William Wordsworth


In an allusion to Spenser William Wordsworth invokes the transformative powers of poetry. Lying behind the reference to the Pagan's Creed is a good deal of seventeenth and eighteenth-century critical writing about the inappropriateness of introducing epic machinery into modern poetry — the revival of various forms of (Christian) medievalism had been one response to a theological and literary dilemma.

Francis Jeffrey: "With Mr. Wordsworth and his friends, it is plain that their peculiarities of diction are things of choice, and not of accident. They write as they do, upon principle and system; and it evidently costs them much pains to keep down to the standard which they have proposed to themselves. They are, to the full, as much mannerists, too, as the poetasters who ring changes on the common-places of magazine versification; and all the difference between them is, that they barrow their phrases from a different and a scantier 'gradus ad Parnasssum.' If they were, indeed, to discard all imitation and set phraseology, and to bring in no words merely for show or for metre, — as much, perhaps, might be gained in freedom and originality, as would infallibly be lost in allusion and authority; but, in point of fact, the new poets are just as great borrowers as the old; only that, instead of borrowing from the more popular passages of their illustrious predecessors, they have preferred furnishing themselves from vulgar ballads and plebeian nurseries" Edinburgh Review 11 (October 1807) 217-18.

Thomas Noon Talfourd: "His little pieces of tranquil beauty are as holy and as sweet as those of Collins, and yet, while we feel the calm of the older poet gliding into our souls, we catch farther glimpses through the luxuriant boughs into 'the highest heaven of invention.' His soul mantles as high with love and joy, as that of Burns, but yet 'how bright, how solemn, how serene,' is the brimming and lucid stream? His poetry not only discovers, within the heart, new faculties, but awakens within, its untried powers, to comprehend and to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom" Retrospective Review; in Talfourd's Miscellaneous Writings (1869) 79.

W. J. B. Owen: "Direct quotations intended to be recognized as such, and distinct from adaptations and allusions, are rather rare in Wordsworth. The sonnet 'The World Is Too Much With Us' (1802-04?) quotes more or less verbatim from Colin Clouts Come Home Again 283 ["And seemed to be a good and pleasant lea"] and 245 ["Is Triton blowing loud his wreathed horne"]" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 735.

Owen also notes an adaptation of lines 21-34 of Virgils Gnat in Wordsworth's sonnet "Pelion and Ossa (1802-4?, p. 1815), and a quotation from FQ VI v. 37 in the sonnet "Occasioned by the Battle of Waterloo (1816).



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 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 coming from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

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