Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Work Without Hope,” is a well-written sonnet about a man’s emotions, as related to nature. The word choice and imagery he uses combine to create a vivid poem. The imagery clearly portrays the man’s innermost feelings, while setting a beautiful scene. The sonnet relates the seasons in the poem to what the man is feeling, and how that relates to his life.
“Work Without Hope” provides the reader with some immediate assumptions that help us see into the poem more clearly. It is a sonnet, though it is not written in a traditional sonnet form. It does, however, develop in a manner that is characteristic of a sonnet. Knowing this, we can establish that the poem develops within the first 12 lines. The “story” unfolds and develops scenes and images for the reader. The last two lines of the sonnet create the turning point, giving the reader the overall theme or point of the sonnet. The setting of the poem is also made evident early on. The poem was written in 1825, so we can assume that it took place during that general time period. Also, the manner in which the poem is written leads us to believe that this is a winter day that is showing the first signs of spring.
The first section of the poem talks about the beauty of nature. The man sees nature at work; “Slugs leave their lair – The bees are stirring – birds are on the wing…” The man refers to himself as an “unbusy” thing. Contrasting himself with the animals, he states, “And I the while, the sole unbusy thing, nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.” He sees nature and begins to realize that while it is beautiful, he has trouble seeing the beautiful. Winter is often considered a desolate season, and this seems to also imply the man’s attitude.
In the second section of the poem, the man develops these thoughts even further. He speaks of the beauty of the streams and flowers around him, but says, “Bloom, O ye amaranths! Bloom for whom he may, For me ye bloom not!” He knows of the beauty surrounding him, but in the state he is in, he is not able to see it and appreciate it. The man describes himself as having, “lips unbrightened” and a “wreathless brow.” This represents his lack of success. He is sterile, like winter, having borne no fruit, or achieved any amount of success. He is despairing, and sees no hope for his future. The man is despaired with the unsuccessful times of the sterile winter days, and cannot see the beauty of nature around him.
The last two lines of this poem are the turning point, and make it all come together. Coleridge writes, “Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, And hope without an object cannot live.” The man is saying that drawing nectar in a sieve is impossible because is just drains through, as will any work without hope. Hope cannot live without an object, because if there is no hope and no point, then there is no reason to continue. These lines show how hopeless the man is. He has no hope, and sees himself as a cold, lonely winter. Although it is a beautiful day, blooming with the first signs of spring, he cannot see anything other than the hopelessness that surrounds him.
The images and word choice Coleridge uses in this sonnet help us to see the true despair in the man’s life. Each line helps us read into the man’s emotions and gives us a clearer picture of what Coleridge is trying to portray. The fact that this poem was written in sonnet form helps us to see the development and turning point. This poem is excellent and provides a clear picture to the reader.