Work Without Hope
Lines composed 21st February 1825
- 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.
- 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.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
"Works of imagination should be written in very plain language;
the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Composed on February 21 st 1825, Work Without Hope was published in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge: including the dramas of Wallenstein, Remorse, and Zapolya
in 1828. Coleridge was esteemded by some of his contemporaries and enjoyed a lifelong friendship with William Wordsworth publishing together one of the landmarks in English poetry, Lyircal Ballads. By the late 1700's Coleridge had become addicted to opium as a remedy to ease the pain of rheumatism. Destitute in spite of some scholarships, he rapidly worked himself into debt with opium, alcohol, and women. He had started to hope for poetic fame, but by 1793, he owed about £150. Between 1808 and 1819 he gave his famous series of lectures on Shakespeare that were partially responsible for a renewed interest in the playwright. During this time he supplemented his literary income through financial donations and grants.
By 1816 Coleridge was estranged from his family and still addicted to opium. It was during these troubled years that he wrote his great romantic work The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and his symbolic Kubla Khan, began the mystical narrative poem Christabel; and composed the quietly lyrical This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Frost at Midnight and The Nightingale, thought to be three of his best conversational poems. In 1817, haunted by his failure to break free from opium he moved into the house of an apothecary named James Gillman, hoping Gillman would help him cut back his opium dose. In addition, Coleridge was not only publishing new works like Aids to Reflection, he began reprinting the old in hopes of finally making a real financial contribution to his family. By 1830, the reviews of his work were becoming more and more positive.
It was Kamala Markandaya who choose the title and inscription for her 1954 novel Nectar in a Sieve from the second verse of Coleridge's poem:
"Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
and hope without an object can not live."
Aptly so since her book in an age old tale with the message of a successful struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds. A graphic tale of a large poverty-stricken Hindu family in a remote rural village in southern India during a time of immense change and difficulty . The push for Indian independence from Britain was booming, and India suffered some of the worst, cultural, economic, climatic and social set backs they have ever known. Despite valiant efforts, the family failed to extricate itself from the hopeless cycle of poverty, but found sucess another way.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fifty three when he wrote his sad little sonnet-like verse and waited three years before it was published in 1828 in the magazine, Bijou. "Amaranth" as, "an imaginary flower that never dies," contrasts his immortal and unfading hope as a writer:, "Bloom, O ye amaranths! Bloom for whom he may, For me ye bloom not!" The poet is the observer on a day in early spring and nature abounds by going about it's business. In the midst of all the bounteous beauty he realizes he is the sole unbusy thing with "lips unbrightened" and a "wreathless brow." The true despair in a man’s life is Hope without an object cannot live, work, he suggests, must have hope to maintain its value.
A prisoner of expectation and potential, Coleridge regarded his work as natural, understood that at times his work was brilliant, even effortless -- he knew what he was missing, and was devastated by that loss. Probably the most notable thing about this poem is the irony as to when Coleridge composed it. It was the same year his Aids to Reflection was published, finally establishing his reputation as a philosopher.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge enjoyed a relatively high regard by his readers for the few remaining years of his life, his treatise, compelling conversational powers and lectures made him perhaps one of the most influential English philosophers and literary critics of the 19th century. He died in Highgate, near London July 25, 1834.
Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "COLEIRDGE,Samuel Taylor" Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.
Nectar in a Sieve:
Public Domain text of the poem taken from the Poet’s Corner:
Work without Hope ,Lines Composed 21st February 1825: