"Works of imagination
should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative
they are the more necessary it is to be plain"
Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And WINTER, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten'd, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
WORK WITHOUT HOPE draws nectar in a sieve,
And HOPE without an OBJECT cannot live.
Written in 1825, Coleridge’s
“Work Without Hope” is a sonnet relating nature to the
emotions of the speaker. The imagery used throughout the poem is both
a reflection of the natural world and a reference to the speaker’s
mental state. Seasons are used in the poem to relate what the speaker
is feeling, and how it affects his life. Described as “lines
composed on a day in February,” or during the beginning of spring,
we realize that the speaker is truly contemplating the ideas presented
throughout the poem.
“Work Without Hope”
is a sonnet, although it is not written in traditional sonnet form.
The development of the poem is presented the same way as in a sonnet;
the poem develops in the first 12 lines. The last two lines then present
the overall theme of the poem to the reader. Throughout this poem
the speaker observes nature at work, and uses the activity to set
up a contrast between himself and a busy natural world. This is illustrated
throughout the first six lines of the poem, which discuss the beauty
of nature using classic terms – "slugs leave their lair/
the bees are stirring – birds are on the wing". The contrast
is made quite apparent here: “And I, the while, the sole unbusy
thing,/ Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.” We learn
that the speaker has come to the realization that while nature is
beautiful, he struggles to identify himself within this world of purpose
and business. Instead, we see him as an observer, not a participant.
These are personal themes throughout Coleridge's life; he often battled
with feelings of failure due to a variety of life events. Please refer
to the Biography of S.T.C. for more information
on this topic. Although Coleridge’s phrase, “WINTER slumbering
in the open air/ Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring”
appears trite and unconvincing, this contrived sentence sets up this
idyllic setting as a foil for what the speaker has to say about his
The speaker then develops his
conscious thought in the next six lines. Although aware of the beauty
that surrounds him, he is also conscious of the unsuccessful picture
he presents to such a scene. This is clear when the speaker addressed
the world around him, saying, “Bloom, O ye Amaranths! Bloom
for whom ye may/ For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!”
The speaker recognizes that this beauty does not exist for him, and
he sees himself as a poor recipient for the natural world. This parallel
between nature and man is a prevalent theme throughout Romantic literature,
often elaborated upon by Percy Bysshe Shelley, among others. Amaranths,
coincidentally, are unfading flowers, and exist as yet another contrast
to a speaker who is fading as we speak. He is well aware that he possesses
a lack of success: “With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow,
I stroll” illustrates his deficiency as compared to this productive
natural scene. The speaker is full of despair; he realizes that he
has contributed nothing. He is as sterile as the winter that preceded
this productive spring season.
The final theme is illustrated
and interpreted in the last two lines of the poem. “WORK WITHOUT
HOPE draws nectar in a sieve/And HOPE without an OBJECT cannot live”
ends Coleridge’s poem and summarizes the overall point. Drawing
nectar, the sugary-sweet juice of poetic fame, through a sieve is
impossible, as is performing any work without hope. For without hope,
there can never be success. This idea is expanded with the statement
that hope cannot live without an object, or a point. For if there
is nothing to hope for, then where does hope go? It simply drains
away. The speaker is isolated in this world of spring beauty, the
contrast felt all the more because of the life and production that