“Work Without Hope” Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Using Contrast to Emphasize Lack of Hope

The 1825 Romantic era poem Work Without Hope” by Samuel Taylor is a lamentation of a man who lacks an object to place his hope and thus, wonders aimlessly and directionless amid nature. While slightly unconventional for a sonnet, the poem begins with the speaker romanticizing nature and how it seems busy going on with its unfading life, blooming only for itself. The poet then introduces a sharp contrast between these nature’s activities with his own lack of hope and an object of desire to keep hope alive. In several instances, the author employs this literary device – contrast – to underscore the misery from being directionless and hopeless and to build on the poem’s main theme: hope.

“Work Without Hope” Poem Structure

The two stanzas all contain a sharp contrast that shifts from the highly productive nature to a man who lacks an object on which to put his hope. In the first stanza, Taylor gives an account of the lively nature, from the bees to the birds chirping, and the upcoming spring season. He states, begins, “All Nature seems at work/… wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring.” (Line 1-4). Immediately after this, he shifts to an utterly different set of events that alters the previous lively mood. Similarly, the poet begins the last stanza stating how he has witnessed the amaranth blow and streams flow, then continues to explain that his drowsy soul is as a result of his feeling of directionless. The evident change of tone midway stanzas emphasizes the misery of having no direction in life.

Symbolism in“Work Without Hope” Poem by Samuel Taylor

The author further includes objects whose symbolism support and intensify the contrast between their meaning and the poem’s main theme of hope and work. Interestingly, the poem mentions the amaranth flower twice. The second stanza begins, “Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow/… Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,” (Line 7-9. Amaranths are naturally considered industrious and ever-busy because they are unfading. The flower maintains its lively colorful trait even in dry seasons. This is highly contradicting with the speaker’s current mood which is depressing, lacks direction, and hope for work. Yet again, Taylor uses the busy nature to contrast with his shortcomings. The poet further reminisces on a time in the past when he was productive and contrasts it with his current inactivity. He laments “Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow/ Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.” (Line 7-8) The speaker knows about the amaranth’s and nectar’s source because he has been there at least once. Symbolically, he has been to the source of hope and productivity but the misery of hopelessness inhibits him from going in search.

“Work Without Hope” Poem Literary Analysis Summary

Samuel Taylor’s poem Work Without Hope employs contrast to show the speaker’s magnitude of misery caused by his lack of direction and consequently, hope. The poem’s thematic structure includes stanzas that begin with illustrations of a busy and lively nature and ends with a gloomy tone caused by the speaker’s hopeless soul. Specific objects and events like the amaranth flowers and past visits in nature have contrasting symbolic meaning with the narrator’s current mood. The sharpness of these contrasts enhances the poem’s theme of the importance of having a sense of hope and direction in life.

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