I’m still on the topic of myth in poetry. Today’s poem is about how myth can be used to illustrate our point, as opposed to making myth the subject matter. In yesterday’s poem, the Oxen, the oxen were made human observing the humans as if they were the livestock (lambs I’m assuming since were talking about Jesus, the shepherd according to the bible). The myth in this case is the point of the piece; Hardy wanted to talk about Christianity or life through the Christian lens.
But in today’s poem the myth is not the point, it’s one of the metaphors that help to illustrate the point. This isn’t a poem about Proteus; the minor sea god is simply being used for his changeable manner, to show the reader the ever changing manner of the world (for those not in the know, Proteus was known for his ever changing form).
Actually, scratch that, these ancient gods are being used as a comparison between those that worshiped the ancient nature religions and those contemporaries to Wordsworth who don’t even believe in god at all. Much of the poem explores a carnal world were much of life is spent “getting and spending” (cough! conspicuous consumption cough!) and the moon bares her bosom, and winds are howling. All of nature is empty and meaningless and lives aren’t worth much – laid to waste, as Wordsworth puts it. But the pagan sees the seas come alive and hears the songs of the waves. He tries to illustrate how those who celebrated the ancient gods seemed more in tune with nature and her ever changing seasons, and more in tune with the sea. Triton was the messenger of the sea, so those who knew him well (those who celebrated his religion) could hear what the sea was saying (or perhaps singing) to them. It had a voice. And the world had many faces, and a sense of magic.
But the gods are still being used to illustrate a point instead of being the subject matter (unlike Leda who got her own poem).
I don’t know, Old Bill sounds a little bereaved to me. Perhaps somebody got his heart broken. Perhaps he wishes that he could just blame it on the gods.
The World Is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth
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 wreathed horn.