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14. A sonnet on/for motivation
Looking to nature for goal-setting inspiration.
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
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.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
* ken = “know” in modern English
After a brief, unintentional hiatus from this Substack, I felt like picking a poem written in a slightly antiquated tone, to spiritually (ha!) transport us to another plane of existence.
A traditional, Petrarchan or Italian sonnet would have an eight-line octave stanza followed by a six-line sestet. Usually the sestet contains the “turn,” the moment where something changes in the scene or the poet-speaker’s understanding. Here, Coleridge flips the form on its head and ends with eight lines. Maybe this is because Coleridge only needed six lines to set the scene where everything is working properly in nature, and then the poet-speaker is free to lament about feeling unproductive in comparison. (I admit, sometimes I love observing my house plants growing so well with little effort on my part… so I can relate to Coleridge there!)
The final couplet sounds depressing on its face, but I think this poem is actually a celebration of how working with hope, with any sort of objective in mind, is a blessing. Just as nature works for its own sake – “Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may, / For me ye bloom not!” – we can work for our own sake, for supporting ourselves and our family, or for whatever higher goal we find important. There is ample satisfaction in that alone. If crows can find satisfaction in a job well done, so can we.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was a British poet who contributed to the Romantic literary movement, a style characterized by strong emotions and reverence for nature. His most famous poems include the ballad “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and the famous fragment “Kubla Khan,” the latter of which he supposedly wrote upon waking from an opium-induced dream.
I wrote my undergrad thesis on Coleridge, so talk to me if you want to know more about him and his views on artistic inspiration 😝
Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!
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