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!
The 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.
I’m planning on writing a book on the concept of laying waste our powers. Wordsworth’s image here is one that I think of every day: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”: what that says to me is that we have this incredible amount of power in ourselves, yet we use it on trivialities. It’s like we take a huge tractor that can tow 200 tons, and we hook it up to tow a 50-pound rock to a place fifty miles away. If the trip takes five hours, imagine how much potential power is being wasted by using such a powerful tractor for such a banal task.
Every day, our bodies and minds create an amazing amount of power and potential. What do we tend to do with that energy? Well, there’s television for one–many people spend four or five hours a day in front of the tube, and all their potential is soaked up by the couch or the armchair. Shopping is important when we need to fulfill needs, but if our major focus in life is in making money just to spend it, then we’re definitely laying waste our powers. If we allow ourselves to bow out of the rat race, if we have fewer or simpler needs, then we won’t need to spend as much, which means that we won’t have to work as much, which means that we’ll have more time and power for other things that matter so much more, like developing our spirits and our knowledge of who we are and why we’re here.
Wordsworth claims that by using up our powers on getting and spending, we’ve lost our connection to nature, a force that can do us much more good than we can imagine, if only we let it. We’ve given our hearts away and we’ve lost touch with the important things in life, great gifts that we leave alone to gather dust in the closet. We don’t go for the walks in the woods on a regular basis, and we don’t spend time with the natural things of the world.
What’s worse, though, is that we don’t seem to learn–he wrote this poem circa 1802. I wonder when we’ll finally take works like this to heart and learn from them. . . .
Questions to ponder:
1. Do you “lay waste” any of your own powers?
2. How can we go about identifying our own potential?
3. Why do we tend to feel that the rat race is “normal”?
For further thought:
The Chinese tell of a man of Peiping who dreamed of gold, much gold, his heart’s desire. He rose one day and when the sun was high he dressed in his finest garments and went to the crowded market place. He stepped directly to the booth of a gold dealer, snatched a bag full of gold coins, and walked calmly away. The officials who arrested him were puzzled: “Why did you rob the gold dealer in broad daylight?” they asked. “And in the presence of so many people?”
“I did not see any people,” the man replied. “I saw only gold.”