“The world is too much with us.” -William Wordsworth
“The world is too much with us,” says Wordsworth: we are “out of tune” with its endless splendor, its muchness, its wave after wave of water and light and hilltop and life. Being out of tune, we often don’t hear the melody. Perhaps that’s precisely because it is “too much:” in a single flower, in a field of grass, in the grains of dust on my table, there is the touch, the color, the taste of more days than I’ll ever spend on any of them. How do we dance with all the endless forests that sway before the breeze?
Wordsworth ends his poem by wishing that he could have been born an ancient mystic. Then he could look out and “glimpse” a sea-god rising from the water: then he could hear, at the edge of the wind, the sound of the ocean’s messenger calling the waves to rest with his conch-shell horn. The symbols come from Greek mythology, when the water was full of magic. Why shouldn’t it be full of magic now? Richard Feynman, the physicist, insists that simple questions followed deeply lead us beyond the realm of what anyone can explain. Within five feet of me, within the bacteria on my hand, within the patterns of light coming through the window, there is more that I don’t understand than that I do. That doesn’t mean we need to give up on understanding, or on the achievements of technology. “Technology” comes from the Greek tekhne, “craftsmanship:” the practical application of force and understanding. At the same time, tekhne can also mean art and weaving: it can mean taking strands from different places and wrapping them together. It can mean feeling. Perhaps we can keep our planes and computers, and still find our way to an ancient’s awe before the wonders of the world.
There are storms above us, wider than our sky. We see the storm by glimpsing, for only a moment, the millions of soft flashes from countless snowflakes as they fall. We can also try to make the storm small, by calling it a disturbance in the air, by marking it out with colored dots on TV screens. But it isn’t small. Like the silent glory of the rising sun, which loses nothing in the face of facts about our solar system (and perhaps gains something), that storm is something of awe. It is the weaving of magic, art, and science. It is too much, unless I open my arms and let it wash over me.
And there, where the paths fade into leaves and grass and the shadows beneath trees, where I am confused and a little lost, there wonder walks, overwhelming, illusive, complete beyond my knowing. There, perhaps, I heard, on the edge of the wind, a conch-shell horn blowing, soothing the waves to sleep. There many things weave together. Somehow I seemed enough, and so it did not seem too much.