Where Whiplash Meets Wordsworth

07/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

As a Manhattanite, I sometimes forget what grass looks like, what birds sound like, and what it feels like to drive (but, uh, don't tell that to an undisclosed car rental agency; I may or may not owe them some money for a suspected fender-bender). But every so often I'm reminded of these things when work takes me to far off and exotic places like Basil, Switzerland, Johannesburg, South Africa, or even Newark, New Jersey.

This week my job took me to yet another interesting location: Charlottesville, VA. Interesting to most for its history and university appeal, but attractive to me because it has simple things like grass, birds, and kind-hearted citizens that don't feel the need to get insurance companies involved when it's just a few paint scratches...allegedly.

Charlottesville, or as I like to call it, the City of Three Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe) reminded me that sometimes the world can be too much with us. Let me explain. Or rather, let Wordsworth explain.

It could've been the view of UVA out of my hotel window, or the minor whiplash from something that could've possibly happened earlier in the day (that I am by no means confirming), but it was certainly one of two causes that empowered me to open my mouth and -- from memory! -- spout line for line, both octave and sestet, Wordsworth's sonnet "The World is Too Much with Us."

As I'm sure you remember, the poem is one of anger and frustration aimed at modernity. Wordsworth mourns the loss of the human response and reaction to nature due to industrialization. He contrasts the natural with the working world and the consequential new view on what makes a man successful--he fears our insensitivity to the affluence of nature might damage our souls in the eyes of God.

Heavy stuff, I know. (And we haven't even gotten to the car wreck yet! Supposed car wreck.) But I guess sometimes it takes an unexpected vista of purple mountains' majesty, or amber waves of grain, or the freshly mowed lawns of top-tier universities to take us out of our concrete jungles and mindsets and into a Wordsworthian coma. Because, after all, he does have a point.

In order to evolve spiritually, man must get in tune with nature and appreciate its power and beauty. It can be something as little as valuing the buzz of a bee or pausing after you hear a bird's chirp to remember its name. To lose sight of these things, Wordsworth warns, is like giving away our hearts.

So often I hustle around New York City head down with my i-Pod and sunglasses on, barely making eye contact with anyone. The City of Three Presidents reminded me that if the world shrinks away for just a second, nature will re-appear. Oh, and the stoplight will turn red and you'll perhaps lightly hit someone from behind as you gaze out the car window, trying to absorb the humid summer sunset and full, white clouds that you swear are just at arm's reach.

And when you feel that bump and crunch, the world is back with you. It happens. If it didn't happen, you'd be Chris McCandless, and you'd be dead. So I'm thankful for modernity, thankful for industrialization (I don't think there was too much blogging going on before that revolution kicked things off) and also very thankful for nature.

So, Wordsworth, I'll meet you half-way: let the world be somewhat with us; late and soon.