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Written in 1825, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sonnet, “Work without Hope” embodies the lively aspects of nature, as he does in numerous other sonnets, and depicts the journey one takes to achieve a goal and realize their worth. Coleridge begins the sonnet by describing an unknown natural environment, utilizing picturesque imagery. Contrasting the primarily light ideas in the first stanza, Coleridge explains that he doesn’t feel as if he is growing or advancing in life like the elements of nature in the second stanza; he doesn’t see his purpose.

Regarding form, “Work without Hope” is rather unorthodox. It progresses like a conventional sonnet does, meaning the main idea is outlined in the first twelve lines and wrapped up in the last two. However, it does not include quatrains. It more closely resembles an Italian sonnet in that one stanza has eight lines while the other has six. Even so, the first stanza is a sestet while the second stanza is an octave which is the opposite of the traditional Italian form. Despite this contrast, there still seems to be a volta present at the start of the second stanza. Coleridge writes that although, “I ken the banks where amaranths blow, / Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.” (7-8) he is not blooming like the amaranths nor is he experiencing the exquisite change that they are. The rhyme scheme also deviates from traditional schemes. It seems to follow an ABABBB CCDDCCEE scheme, which doesn’t closely resemble any common schemes.

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Coleridge’s utilization of this unique format assists him in getting his point across. The two stanzas differ greatly in content which divides between them a logical implementation. The first stanza of the sonnet is a lively depiction of the beauty that surrounds Coleridge. He writes that “All 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.” (1-6). In the first four lines, Coleridge is describing the characteristics, or rather the duties, of the various creatures. However, in lines 5 and 6, he designates himself as the “sole busy thing”. He doesn’t create honey like bees or sing like the birds, therefore, he sees himself as useless. Coleridge also personifies Winter by stating that it’s, “slumbering in the open air, / Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring.” (3-4). These statements imply that spring is fast approaching. Moreover, this personification of Winter outlines the time frame in which Coleridge is present in this mystifying landscape.

Coleridge also employs repetition in line 6 with the continual use of the word “nor”. This repetition emphasizes his unhappiness with himself because he feels like he isn’t going anywhere in life. The list of these elements and their achievements is almost portrayed as a metaphor. He is comparing the bees and the flowers and the bird’s achievements with everything that he has not done himself. The tone changes drastically in the second stanza. Coleridge writes, “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 unbrightened, 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.” (7-14). He’s stating that although he knows where the amaranths are thriving and where the nectar is flowing, he’s still not growing nor is he achieving his goals. He feels useless, he is not working like the other forms of nature are. However, Coleridge also realizes that the actions of the plants are creatures are not being done for him, they are being done simply because it is the nature of the various elements. In line 10, he exclaims, “For me, ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!” He has finally discerned that they are not doing these actions for him and he finally encourages them to do these actions for themselves. He discovers that nothing is happening just for him. In lines 11-12, Coleridge’s writing takes a more personal turn.

Coleridge is presenting his emotions and how he feels. He feels exhausted and he implores why he feels that way. The final two lines (13-14) encapsulate Coleridge’s main point of this sonnet. He expresses that, “Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,” which means that doing anything without hope is a fruitless task. The “nectar” or rewards that one achieves from work will simply fall through the cracks. The analogy that Coleridge makes between nectar seeping through a sieve and working without hope not only simplifies his point but also solidifies it. Furthermore, in the very last line, Coleridge also claims that one cannot have an empty sense of hope. Coleridge earnestly implores the fact that if there is nothing to hope for, what’s the point of having hope at all? In closing, Coleridge experienced many hardships in his lifetime. Not only did he suffer from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses, but he also had a severe opium addiction. This feeling of uselessness that he portrays in “Work without Hope,” could potentially be attributed to his lifelong struggles with these illnesses but also the battles that he encountered with himself. These conflicts have been a central idea in many of his other pieces of work, such as “The Pains of Sleep”, “Frost at Midnight”, and “Dejection: An Ode”. In many pieces of his work, he implores why he feels the way he does and what he did to deserve such pain and suffering. His poems are a depiction of what it is like to live inside of his mind.

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