Work without Hope: Explication
In the poem titled “Work without Hope” by Samual Taylor Coleridge, the speaker notices that “All nature seems at work”(1) in the midst of a late winter’s day. By this he means that it appears as if all of nature is preparing for the change in season–meaning that Spring is about to begin. Some of the signs that he sees Spring approaching are the “slugs leaving their lair” and“bees stirring” and the “birds on their wing” (1-2). It seems as if every living creature has a purpose in the grand scheme of life, but the speaker calls himself “the sole unbusy thing”(5). And for the first time, the speaker has finally realized that all of these creatures serve a purpose in life, except for himself. Throughout the rest of the poem, the speaker must face this dilema: he has no purpose in life. Due to this realization, the speaker has a dreary tone for the rest of the poem. This tone can be seen when the speaker uses the language and the form of the poem to suggest that the major conflict is within the speaker himself with his depression.
We first see his use of language when he calls himself an unbusy thing.(1)This might encourage readers to see the speaker as a person who is depressed because he doesn’t have a purpose in life. He is comparing himself to nature when he is listing all the things he can’t do that nature can. In line six of the poem he says, “Nor honey make, nor pair,nor build, nor sing.”(6) From this line, readers can interpret that the speaker is a person who compares himself to others, and sees someone else’s success as their own failure.
In line seven of the poem, the speaker mentions “Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow”(7) It may be significant to mention that amaranths are a kind of flower that are vibrant in color and grow in bunches. They usually grow in the summer or autumn. Another definition for them is that they are an imaginary flowers that never fades. The speaker might have chosen this particular flower because he wanted it to symbolize something else. It could symbolize how other people tend to get spread like the flower, in a sense that they are always successful in creating something great no matter where they land themselves. Flowers like amaraths eventually bloom, and their pollen gets picked up by the wind, which in return pollinates the surrounding plants, which is used by the bees to make nectare. To reaffirm this we can look at lines nine and ten. “Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may, For ye bloom not! Glide,rich streams,away!”(9-10) In these lines, the speaker is suggesting that the amaranths (people, nature) will bloom(become successful) for just about anyone except our speaker.
The speaker also uses interesting word choice again within line ten when he describes the streams that follow the path of the amaranths as “rich”(10) This could also be a symbol of how other people find a constant rich flow of success, but our speaker does not due to his unshakable depression.
In addition to the speaker’s good use of language to express his depression, he also uses the structure of the poem to get his point across. “Work without Hope” is a sonnet;like many other sonnets, this one has fourteen lines. Its rhyming scheme is this: aabbccddeeff. This scheme is similar to the English sonnet: ababcdcdefefgg. “Work without Hope” differs from the English sonnet in lines five and six because it has two extra lines that rhyme in bbb. “Spring”, “thing”, and “sing” (4-6). Perhaps the speaker chose to sway from the original English form to emphasize the happy tone of the animals moving about while the speaker is saddened and depressed about his inability to partake in these events.
The poem also sways from the original English sonnet form in the last two lines. Instead of having the traditional English ending of the rhyme ffgg, it has the ending eeff. The last two lines of an English sonnet usually end in a couplet. In this couplet, the speaker usually uses the last two lines to solve the problem of the previous three stanzas. “Work without Hope” does have a concluding couplet, and it does propose a solution to the speaker’s problem, but it just doesn’t rhyme the traditional way. This perhaps suggests that there is an ending for the speaker, but it isn’t a happy one like it is for the busy animals preparing for Spring.
The last two lines of the poem end with the words “Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve/ And Hope without an object cannot live” (13-14) Notice that the word hope is repeated in both lines and is also capitalized, which emphasizes the importance of the word hope. When the speaker ends the sonnet with these words, he means that extracting nectar with a sieve just drains throughout, and that you don’t collect any nectar at all in the process. Extracting nectar with a sieve is much like working with no hope. Hope cannot exist without some object wishing for it. If we did not have hope, then there would be no purpose to continue life, and the speaker wants us to realize this, for he himself is struggling with this idea. These last two lines show how depressed this speaker really is. He no longer has any hope. With the use of his language and the structure of how he unfolds his story, we see a man that sees all of these beautiful signs of spring approaching in front of him; yet, he cannot shake the feeling of hopelessness, or the coldness of the winter to fully see the beauty and success of life in front of him.
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