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Looking for a famous quote by William Wordsworth probably relevant to the concept of the Anthropocene

Literature Asked by pat3d3r on October 13, 2020

I’ve talked to someone who studied English literature and the concept of Anthropocene recently, and the person quoted Wordsworth during our conversation. Unfortunately I can not remember the quote, but would like to find it again. My two clues are that it might contain the word "we", and that it should be rather famous, since it was said to me in a way as if I as university educated person (although a completely different field) might know about it.

Do you have any clue as to which line (or at least which poem) it could have been?

One Answer

One possibility is the line "Little we see in Nature that is ours" from Wordsworth's sonnet "The world is too much with us". The poem reads as follows:

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 wreathèd horn.

Wordsworth was a founder of the Romantic movement in England, and deeply concerned with the relationship of human beings to nature. Like other European Romantics, Wordsworth believed that engagement with the natural world was an ethical necessity: without an abiding connection to nature, we become coarse and materialistic. Civilization, by definition cut off from nature, also cuts us off from us own natural instincts of goodness.

The Industrial Revolution and the rapid urbanization of England in the late 1700s and early 1800s accelerated what Wordsworth saw as this unnatural coarsening of human sensibility. Written around 1802, "The world is too much with us" is representative of his thinking. Caught up in worldly pursuits, we no longer are in harmony with nature. We are "out of tune" with the natural beauty that would keep us from giving "our hearts away", i.e., becoming heartless.

Wordsworth claims that being a pagan who sees divinities in natural phenomena is preferable to a life of "getting and spending". This exaltation of the noble savage over the urban merchant is a typical Romantic attitude. Wordsworth's reverence for the natural world, and his belief in the ethical necessity of such reverence, are diametrically opposed to the Adamic worldview that has established the Anthropocene: the view that humans have mastery over nature, whose resources exist merely for us to exploit.

Answered by verbose on October 13, 2020

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